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Generation Rent claims Black people victimised by “outdated” Vagrancy Act

A group of rental activists claims that police in England are disproportionately using a 19th century law that criminalises rough sleeping against people who are Black.

Generation Rent says responses to a Freedom of Information request sent to police forces across England and Wales show that people who are Black made up eight per cent of the arrests under the Vagrancy Act in the last five years, despite making up only four per cent of the general population. Only five e per cent of England’s rough sleeping population identify as black according to government figures, and Generation Rent claims this is “indicating that people who are Black are being disproportionately targeted by the police using the Act.”

The Vagrancy Act makes it an offence to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales. Despite technically being repealed in February 2022, the Act, which the government have described as “outdated”, remains in force and will remain so until replacement laws are put in place.


Parts of the Criminal Justice Bill, currently passing through Parliament, will replace the Vagrancy Act. 

However campaigners have expressed concerns that the current form of the new Bill leaves the door open for people sleeping rough to continue to be criminalised for being homeless.

There have been at least 4,200 arrests under the Vagrancy Act between 2018 and 2022. Of these the majority of people arrested - 3,274 - were white, but 327 or eight per cent, were black. 

Ben Twomey, chief executive of Generation Rent, says: “Any continued use of this pre-Victorian law to criminalise people who are already suffering on our streets shames our country, and to see it used in a discriminatory way shows even more clearly that it needs to go.

“The Vagrancy Act turns 200 years old in this coming year, and we call on the government to end this cruelty. It is vital that any new laws do not simply re-introduce the criminalisation of homelessness and that the Government focus instead on measures to end homelessness.”

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