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Being homeless isn’t a crime

Tuesday, 20 April, 2021

Did you know that rough sleeping can still be deemed a criminal activity and rough sleepers can be fined up to £1000?!


We’d like to think that attitudes towards homelessness have improved since Charles Dickens’ times, when this Act first came into force. Thankfully MPs are talking about scrapping the Act for good.

However, despite issues relating to homelessness being raised in parliament, the UK still faces a housing crisis that requires longer-term thinking and investment.

The current situation in the UK

According to research conducted by Heriot-Watt University for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in 2019 2.4 million people in the UK experienced destitution.[1]

In March 2021, the rate of unemployment in the UK stood 1.1 points higher than before the pandemic struck. Economists also forecast that after the government’s furlough scheme ends later this year, unemployment will peak at around 6.5%.[2] With statistics like these, it’s clear that for many people, securing employment will become harder.

The knock-on effect of higher levels of unemployment will mean that the job market will become even more crowded. In turn, applicants will need to demonstrate experience and basic literacy and numeracy skills more than ever before.

We’re happy that homelessness and homeless-related issues are being discussed by MPs at parliamentary level. Eradicating homelessness needs true systemic change, however, we need more decisive action. What we really need are measures to reduce destitution, increase jobs and build more affordable housing.

Abolishing the 200+ year-old Vagrancy Act is a good start. However, at the same time, the fact that it’s been around for so long might partly explain why there is still so much misunderstanding and prejudice about homelessness in the UK today.

How Homeless Oxfordshire is helping (a current snapshot)

We’re creating a lending library so that our clients have access to brand new books. It will contain everything from fiction, non-fiction and reference books. Accessing a wide-range of reading materials will help our clients to build crucial skills. We’re also hoping to start offering clients learning and development courses in the near future.

The money that our supporters raise in their fundraisers and the amounts we raise through initiatives like our Book Club also go towards furthering the digital skills of our clients. This money allows us to buy the appropriate technology to help address the digital divide that still exists among vulnerable people, for example by giving clients access to laptops and tablets.

We’re here to provide help and support to people who need it most. The effects of the pandemic will mean that our service will be in demand more than ever.

In our lifetime, we that the level of destitution in the UK decreases to a level that means homelessness is relegated to the same place as the Vagrancy Act…

The past.


[1] See Fitzpatrick, S., Bramley, G., Blenkinsopp, J., Wood, J., Sosenko, F., Littlewood, M., Johnsen, S., Watts, B., Treanor, M., & McIntyre, J. (2020) Destitution in the UK 2020. York: JRF. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/ destitution-uk-2020) 

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/mar/23/uk-unemployment-falls-covid-19-jobless-rate#:~:text=The%20Office%20for%20National%20Statistics,the%20jobless%20rate%20to%205.2%25.

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