Letter: Open letter to Rochdale Council Cabinet - repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824

Date published: 28 December 2017

'Dear Editor,

Open letter to Rochdale Council Cabinet

Repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824

As a previous correspondent has pointed out on Rochdale Online: 'according to the Police UK website, 70% of reported offences in Rochdale town centre between February 2016 to February 2017 required no further action.

According to UK Crimestats, month by month statistics for anti-social behaviour in Rochdale town centre was 60 offences in February 2016, and 43 in February 2017.'

The statistics available do not suggest that the sweeping dictatorial powers of a PSPO voted through by Cabinet members on their last meeting before Christmas Day is either necessary or just.

The whole spirit of such a PSPO runs contrary to the 'spirit of Christmas' and at complete variance to Rochdale Council's own mission statement wich proudly proclaims RMBC's vision and aspiration to be:

'A council which builds success and prosperity with our citizens and partners, whilst protecting our vulnerable people.'

How can your mission statement be worth the space it is written on when you must surely be aware, individually if not collectively, that homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems has increased by around 75% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and there has been a similar rise in the number of families with dependent children who are classed as homeless. At the same time the number of families with dependent children – another priority homeless group identified by councils – has increased from 22,950 to 40,130. The number of homeless households with a family member who has a physical disability has increased from 2,480 to 4,370.

The very people most likely to be sanctioned under the newly introduced PSPO by Rochdale Council will consequently be the most vulnerable of our citizens you claim to 'protect' in theory but in practice pass legislation to further marginalise and punish.

The government has been accused in many quarters of being 'overly complacent ' on homelessness their heartless decision to strip young people of their housing benefits is highlighted by figures from 234 councils obtained through a freedom of information request have lifted the lid on a hidden epidemic, with almost 45,000 18- to 24-year-olds approaching their local authority over the past year with more than 100 local authorities not providing information, the real statistic could well be above 70,000.

Rochdale Council's PSPO is a further blunt instrument with which to beat the poor and marginalised victims of austerity cuts made by the very same council whilst nothing conclusive to solve the problem of begging, homelessness or rough -sleeping and will simply heap more misery upon human misery leading to the accusation that the Council is being 'overly cruel'.

Public Space Protection Orders will only a generation from now be regarded by society as a whole as primitive and barbaric legislation imposed by public officials scrambling desperately for a 'solution' to a problem they have themselves created by imposing with as little idea of the complexities of the situation as Victorian Board of Guardians understood the needs of the poor and destitute, set them to picking oakum and breaking rocks with iron hammers in the 'stone yards' of Rochdale workhouses across the Borough in less enlightened times.

This reactionary mindset belongs firmly in the past along with chimney sweeps, child mill operatives and the kind of elitist non-thinking that, as local Lancashire writer Edwin Waugh observed, allowed elected public officials to enforce a kind of economic apartheid and hang signs outside Lancashire town halls prohibiting people from wearing clogs - the only affordable footwear to hundreds of thousand of Lancashire Textile workers - from entering the corridors of power.

With the return of rickets, malnutrition, tuberculosis and the kind of shaming child poverty levels Jack London, William Booth and  Charles Dickens would have raged against, I would like to request that Rochdale Council Cabinet bring its attention to an issue of contemporary concern, the 1824 Vagrancy Act and an existing Parliamentary petition asking for it's repeal.

Since the Vagrancy Act of 1824 shares many of the common legislative characteristics and ethos of Rochdale Councils Public Space Protection Order 2017 (the former seeking to scapegoat the innocent victims of the Lancashire Cotton Famines and nineteenth century recessions caused by the free for all that was the trademark of 'laissez-faire' capitalism and the latter PSPO the wholly innocent victims of twenty first century austerity and turbo-charged de-regulated neo-liberal economics), could I respectfully ask council members to add their names as individuals or as Labour Party members to the parliamentary petition lest history not view them in the future as we now as a society generally regard past antiquated architects of the workhouse, the Poor Law and the Vagrancy Act with condemnation and widespread derision.

The petition site can be found on the House of Commons website at:



Andrew Wastling

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