Research informs new campaign to end the Vagrancy Act

A researcher from the Department of History has contributed to a report by Crisis – a national charity for homeless people - that will be launched in the House of Commons today.

The Crisis report – that has used data and findings from Professor Nick Crowson’s research into the use of the Vagrancy Act - outlines that the act is still used to criminalise people for rough sleeping and begging, and that more can be done to tackle the causes of homelessness.

Nick Crowson is a Professor of Contemporary British History with a particular interest in homelessness from the 1880s to the modern day. This includes recreating the life stories of vagrants in late Victorian times, exploring the hidden history of the mass squatting of military camps in 1946 and examining the role of the Reception Centres after 1946. His work also considers the impact of organisations, such as Shelter and Crisis, in campaigning for the homeless.

Nick Crowson comments on the Act: “The 1824 Vagrancy Act has survived for nearly two centuries because of its flexibility, with a low evidential threshold, that could applied when other forms of legal recourse were unenforceable. It was enacted to address concerns about the anti-social behaviours of veteran of the Napoleonic wars and economic migrants entering urban areas bringing disorder, disease and increased welfare cost burdens. Since the end of world war two the prosecution levels have ebbed and flowed, in part, reflecting unemployment levels and changing policing priorities.

“One explanation for the drop of recent years, from the highs of 2010 and 2014, could be the growing use of civil powers granted under public space protection orders that councils have been adopting. When reform of the Act has been achieved, as in 1935, it has been done through a combination of cross-party political, and public, support. The attempts to repeal the Act in the 1980s and 1990s were thwarted by arguments that other legal options would incur harsher punishments and because of conflicting attitudes to the beggar, attitudes that stretch back many centuries.”