Michael Gove faces backlash over new law ‘re-criminalising’ rough sleeping

"They want to conceal the consequences of their failing economic policies.”

Michael Gove

Communities Secretary Michael Gove is facing a backlash over plans to recriminalize rough sleeping.

Gove has included a clause in his new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which would allow ministers to “create criminal offences or civil penalties” around begging and “persons committing certain offences deemed to be rogues and vagabonds”. Critics, from both within the Tory party as well as opposition politicians say that the measures contained in the bill would re-criminalise rough sleeping by the back door.

Earlier in the year, homelessness charities had welcomed the government’s repeal of the Vagrancy Act, which dated back to 1824 and rendered homelessness and begging illegal. It was repealed in April as part of the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.

The Homelessness charity Crisis had said at the time that the criminalisation of homelessness had ‘shamed our society’.

The Telegraph reports that Nickie Aiken, the MP for Cities of London and Westminster, has urged Gove to drop the clause in question, telling the paper: “This is quite a surprising move by the Government to want to disregard a piece of legislation that has just been passed, and it’s wrong to bring it back”.

News of Gove’s plans also received a backlash online, with one social media user writing: “Michael Gove wants to make sleeping rough a criminal act again, just in time for the inevitable incline in homelessness, thanks to the cost of living crisis. Typical Tory politicking.

“They want to conceal the consequences of their failing economic policies.”

Charlie Falconer tweeted: “Vagrancy Act criminalised street homeless.  Govt agreed to its repeal in Police etc Act in May. Month later in Levelling Up Bill govt have included power to reintroduce Vagrancy Act offences “despite the repeal” in Police Act.  Absolute snakes.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We are clear that no-one should be criminalised for having nowhere to live. That is why we are repealing the antiquated Vagrancy Act.

“In order to fully repeal the Act, we have committed to bring forward more modern, fit for purpose legislation to make sure vulnerable people are supported to access essential support, while also ensuring the police still have the tools they need to keep people safe.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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