UK Government Faces Backlash Over Proposal to Criminalize Rough Sleeping

UK Government Faces Backlash Over Proposal to Criminalize Rough Sleeping

Riddhi Doshi 03/04/2024
UK Government Faces Backlash Over Proposal to Criminalize Rough Sleeping

The UK government is facing backlash over a proposal that could criminalize rough sleeping based on nuisance behavior, including "excessive" smells.

The debate surrounding the Criminal Justice Bill has sparked concern among lawmakers and advocacy groups, with more than 10 Conservative MPs advocating for changes to ensure that action is only taken against those who engage in aggressive or threatening behavior, rather than merely sleeping rough.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan emphasized the importance of supporting individuals to transition off the streets, stating that people should not be arrested simply for emitting odors associated with homelessness. However, she acknowledged the need to strike a balance and consider any potential legislation carefully, particularly regarding instances of aggressive behavior or nuisance activity near public spaces.

The proposed measures within the Criminal Justice Bill aim to replace the outdated 1824 Vagrancy Act, which criminalizes begging and rough sleeping. While the government has pledged to repeal this legislation, concerns have been raised about the broad definition of "nuisance" behavior, which could encompass activities such as causing excessive noise or odors.

Conservative MP Bob Blackman has tabled an amendment to the bill, seeking to ensure that guidance is issued to councils and police forces regarding the use of these powers. This guidance would clarify that begging or rough sleeping, in itself, does not constitute unreasonable conduct warranting intervention. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of balancing community safety with sensitivity to the underlying issues driving individuals to engage in these behaviors.

Despite support from some Conservative MPs, including former minister Sir Iain Duncan Smith, there is significant opposition within the party to the government's proposals. More than 40 Tory MPs have indicated their intent to vote against the legislation, prompting discussions between potential rebels and government officials.

The introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill by Suella Braverman, formerly home secretary, has reignited debates surrounding homelessness and the criminalization of rough sleeping. While Braverman characterized rough sleeping as a "lifestyle choice," current Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has pushed back against this narrative, recognizing the complex circumstances that often lead individuals to homelessness.

Liberal Democrat Layla Moran has criticized the government's approach, warning against the potential resurgence of draconian measures akin to the Vagrancy Act. Moran emphasized the need for a compassionate strategy to address homelessness, urging policymakers to prioritize support and intervention over punitive measures.

Homelessness charity Crisis has echoed these sentiments, calling on the home secretary to reconsider the proposed legislation and instead focus on initiatives aimed at alleviating homelessness and supporting vulnerable individuals. The organization warned that the government's proposals risk exacerbating the plight of rough sleepers and perpetuating cycles of marginalization and exclusion.

As the debate over the Criminal Justice Bill continues, lawmakers and advocacy groups alike are advocating for a more compassionate and holistic approach to addressing homelessness. The outcome of these deliberations will not only shape government policy but also have profound implications for the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness across the country.

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Riddhi Doshi

Mental Health Expert

Riddhi Doshi trains and coaches corporate leaders, educators and parents on issues of mental health and behavior. She is an internationally certified Parenting & Behaviour Coach. In past 15+ years she has conducted 2540+ open workshops, delivered 87000+ hours of talks, 53000+ hours of counseling sessions covering 59000+ students and 62,000+ women from various fields. Parenting sessions conducted by Riddhi are housefull and recent;y she completed her 366th Parenting session. She has been a speaker and advisor at various institutions and organizations including IIM, Ahmedabad, Rotary Club, Tata Power, Larson & Toubro and The Time of India. She holds an MBA in HRD, LLM and numerous other professional certifications from prestigious international institutions including University of Cambridge, BSY University, London, City & Guilds, London, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and NMIMS, Mumbai. She has been awarded with “National Award for Cultural Activities by AVANTIKA- Delhi”, “Excellence in Wellness”, “Young Entrepreneurs Award”, “Self Made Diva Award” among various others. With a mission to “make corporate leaders, educators and parents empowered and more aware about mental health & wellness”, Riddhi regularly gives interviews on leading media platforms. She loves to interact with corporate leaders, educators and parents to discuss about women issues, child psychology and parenting challenges.

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