Above: Picture taken recently at nearby Stratford, showing the crisis of homelessness engulfing us.

Following residents concerns about homeless people being targeted in Mile End Park, and in discussion with the Labour Homelessness Campaign, I raised a members enquiry with regards to the use of the Vagrancy Act against the homeless, to my suprise the Act is used to criminalise the homeless in Tower Hamlets.

The Vagrancy Act, on the books since 1824, makes it a criminal offence to sleep “in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon, not having any visible means of subsistence”. The law of the land, which was repealed in Scotland nearly four decades again, gives police the right to arrest or fine the most marginalised in our society, simply because they have nothing.

National Labour Party Policy is to Repeal the Act

In December 2018, Jeremy Corbyn announced that when Labour gets into government it will finally repeal the act. As he rightly said, people experiencing homelessness “need help, not punishment. The next Labour government will make ending homelessness a priority. We want to build a society which doesn’t walk by on the other side when we see someone in need.”

But we can’t wait for a Labour Government to come into power, and need to do what we can to decriminalise homelessness, and establish housing as a basic human right. Most people in Tower Hamlets are two pay cheques away from being homeless, it could happen to anyone.

Next Steps

I will be raising the issue with the Council to have the policy reversed. I believe campaigners from the Labour Homelessness Campaign will be having their own separate meeting the Council and Council leadership.

To Establish Housing as a Human Right again we must decriminalise Homelessness. Just like we have established, that education and health care is a human right. Rightly so we don;t criminalise people for having poor education or bad health, homelessness should be decriminalised, if we all want to build a decent society for ourselves and our children.

Please find below Members Enquiry confirming that Tower Hamlets Council uses the Vagrancy Act against the homeless, and thus criminalizing people for rough sleeping.

Initial Response to Members Enquiry on the use of the Vagrancy Act in Mile End Ward.
Second, response with more details collected from Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers (THEOs), Tower Hamlets Council Employees
Statistics provided by the Council confirming that Vagrancy Act is used against the homeless in Mile End Ward. Please note statistics relate to Mile End, and not Borough wide, thus indicating Borough wide figures to be higher.