Cities of London & Westminster MP, Nickie Aiken joined Matt Chorley on Times Radio’s mid-morning show to discuss the Vagrancy Act.
Nickie was asked to join Matt ahead of her leading a Westminster Hall Debate on the repeal and replacement of the Act later in the day.
Below is a transcript of part of Nickie and Matt’s conversation.
Matt - The Vagrancy Act 1824 – What is it and why would you like to see it scrapped?
Nickie - Well it’s legislation that basically criminalises anybody who is on the street sleeping or even begging. It was introduced as you so in 1824, so nearly 200 years ago to respond to soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars who had nowhere to go.
21st century, we still have people sleeping rough on the street but the vast majority are there because of underlying mental health or addition issues. And the last thing they need, and I think we as a society need, is to criminalise these people.
What we need is to help them address their addictions, their mental health, give them the proper help and support and the medical support they need to turn their lives around.
Matt - And I suppose that’s one of the things we’ve seen that when society, the state puts its shoulder to the wheel, this could happen? It was only a question of a combination of money obviously, space and political will?
Nickie - Well absolutely – but there remained in Westminster, my constituency, at least 10%, so 100 people were still on the street throughout the darkest times of the pandemic in the first lockdown because they are so ill and because they have been so let down by our society, so ill that they do not trust any help and it’s about attaching…
There is 400 beds a night available in Westminster for rough sleepers. It’s not about the bed, it’s about the help that goes with the bed and that’s why I want to repeal the Vagrancy Act and replace it with a new approach which concentrates on assertive outreach with medical health and mental health services on the street, that working with outreach workers can then turn these people’s lives around.
Because they are the most vulnerable people in our society and they deserve and need our help not criminalisation.
You can listen to Matt and Nickie’s exchange above.