'Cruel and counterproductive': Charities urge government to rethink rough sleeping crackdown

More than 30 charities have raised concerns about measures in the Criminal Justice Bill. Credit: PA

Home Secretary James Cleverly is coming under increasing pressure to reconsider new plans to clamp down on "nuisance" rough sleepers in England and Wales.

A total of 37 charities, including Crisis, Amnesty UK and the Big Issue, have voiced their concerns in a letter to Mr Cleverly warning that measures in the Criminal Justice Bill could see vulnerable women fined for seeking shelter.

Crisis told ITV News the plans are "cruel and counterproductive" and that the language used in parts of the Bill - such as the word "nuisance" - is "demeaning".

The government is attempting to stave off a revolt over the plans with more than 40 Conservative MPs planning to rebel against the legislation, fearing it could criminalise homeless people.

Measures in the Bill would allow police to move on “nuisance” rough sleepers and if they don't comply, they will have powers to fine or arrest them.

Critics argue the language is so broad that people carrying an "excessive smell" or who merely appear as though they intend to sleep rough could be fined up to £2,500.

The charities' letter praises certain elements of the Bill designed to end rough sleeping, but says other parts “undermine” those commitments.

"It could see women, who are disproportionately likely to suffer violence and sexual abuse on the streets, penalised for seeking shelter and safety in well-lit doorways," it adds.

Jasmine Basran, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Crisis, told ITV News: "Elements of the Bill - aside from the overall approach - really go into personal, dehumanising attacks on people."

The charity is "incredibly worried" about the measures and is urging the home secretary to "listen" to their concerns and meet with them, said Ms Basran.

Crisis' Jasmine Basran outlines to ITV News why women in particular are more at risk of harm

"There's such strength of opposition from people across England who are working with homeless people, or those at risk of homelessness, so the letter is showing the opposition and is really a plea... to James Cleverley to listen to us.

"We're saying this isn't going to work, this is going to create more problems, it will undermine the government's commitment to end rough sleeping."

The legislation was drafted while Suella Braverman - who claimed rough sleeping is a "lifestyle choice" - was home secretary and Mr Cleverly has been urged by fellow MPs to amend it now he's in the job.

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Former ministers Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green are among 10 Tories who have signed a series of amendments to the Bill aimed at countering the drive to criminalise rough sleeping.

Measures tabled by Tory MP Bob Blackman would seek to ensure ministers fulfil their promise to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, the law which currently criminalises rough sleeping and begging.

The government promised to do so when it passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act in 2022, but only when it found a suitable replacement.

Measures in the Criminal Justice Bill aim to provide this replacement but are thought to be too widely drawn by the Tory rebels.

A second amendment from Mr Blackman aims to clarify when the police are able to use the new powers.

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