The Vagrancy Act of 1866 – by Sheryle

The Vagrancy Act of 1866 makes it a criminal offence to beg or to be homeless on the streets of England and Wales. The law was passed in the summer of 1824 (197 years ago) and it was originally intended to deal with a situation far from the reality of street homelessness in the present day.

The majority of the original Vagrancy Act from 1824 remains in force in England and Wales. In 1982 the entire act was repealed in Scotland by the civic government. I researched this information as I was unclear on what the Vagrancy Act covers.

I have experienced homelessness and have been arrested many times for begging under the Vagrancy Act and it has not benefited me and my future. I was seventeen years old and street homeless, but instead of being supported by the police and being signposted to charities who could have helped me and supported me into accommodation, I kept on being criminalised for having nowhere to live.

I was also not receiving any benefits at the time as I was under the age of eighteen.

My punishment was having to spend a night in the cells. Then go to the magistrates court to appear in front of a judge, which for a seventeen young girl was scary. I felt like I shouldn’t be there – bad people go to court for murder and rape offences – I was there for being homeless. It didn’t make sense.

I tried to get a job but because I had been arrested so many times for the same offence, I had to disclose my past to prospective employers. It was a past I wanted to forget because it was shameful.

Surprisingly I never got the jobs I applied for.

I find the Vagrancy Act to be  unsupportive and it should be axed. It is cruel and inhumane.

In 2022 they pledge to end homelessness but they will stop people getting into employment if they continue to use the Vagrancy Act on them when they are at rock bottom in their life.