Multiple prosecutions for begging in Cumbria have been carried out in the past five years.

Ministry of Justice figures on this come after the central government faces criticism over part of its Criminal Justic Bill, which is set to replace the Georgion-era Vagrancy Act.

Said bill could give police powers to fine ‘nuisance’ rough sleepers.

Cumberland Council is similarly being criticised for its similar proposals via a public space protection order (PSPO), which is going through a public consultation until April 26.

Homelessness charity Crisis said people living on the streets need compassion and support rather than being cast into the criminal justice system.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show there were four prosecutions for begging in Cumbria under the Vagrancy Act in the five years to June 2023.

The act also criminalises "sleeping out", however, there were no prosecutions in the area for this offence.

Under the 1824 law, anyone prosecuted faces a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record.

Across England and Wales, there have been nearly 2,888 prosecutions under the act – just 13 were for sleeping out, while the rest were for begging.

Overall, 2,300 (80 per cent) resulted in a conviction, including three in Cumbria.

Matt Downie, Crisis chief executive, said the figures paint a "grim picture" of the reality of life on the streets.

He added: "Not only are people forced to live in fear, suffering regular violence and abuse, but they must also contend with the threat of being arrested.

“No-one should be criminalised for being homeless.”

He added more social homes, proper funding for bespoke support services and ditching the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill is needed to tackle rough sleeping.

Separately, freedom of information requests by the Liberal Democrats showed there were 2,412 arrests across 29 police forces since 2019 under the Vagrancy Act, including 57 arrests by Cumbria Constabulary.

Brian Wernham, Carlisle’s Lib Dem candidate at the next general election, and councillor for Stanwix Urban on Cumberland Council, called the bill ‘terrible’.

He said rather than ‘criminalising homeless people’, increased mental health support for the homeless is needed.

“Part of the problem is no-fault evictions,” he said, which give landlords powers to evict tenants for no stated reason, as well as a higher risk of homelessness for veterans.

“The bill being put forward is just another Vagrancy Act, except 2024.

“It’s shocking the police will have powers to arrest rough sleepers, no one should be criminalised for sleeping rough,” he added.

The PSPO proposal from the Labour-run Cumberland Council spells out much of the same that is being criticised nationally.

READ MORE: Concerns raised that council proposal 'could effectively criminalise' homelessness

It states that it would regulate begging ‘that may cause or (is) likely to cause anti-social behaviour’, and manage ‘camping/sleeping in a manner that may lead to anti-social behaviour’.

Gavin Hawkton, Carlisle’s Green Party candidate at the next general election, said the council is, in effect, trying to criminalise the homeless.

He said it’s ‘incredibly sad’ for the Labour-run council to consider what he called ‘draconian policies’ towards the homeless.

“The enforcement of a so-called ‘zero-tolerance’ attitude does not deal with the problem of homelessness but simply removes it from view,” he added.

It is not made clear in the document how or when sleeping in public would be considered ‘anti-social’.

"No person shall beg where it causes or is likely to cause anti-social behaviour," the council document adds.

Mr Wernham said Lib Dems ‘generally speaking’ believe a series of measures to help homeless people rough sleeping, and a long term plan should be put into funding independent homes rather than emergency shelters.

He added that the Labour-led council’s proposals are ‘disappointing’ and ‘this Labour administration of Cumberland Council seems to be another shade of blue’, referring to the Conservative Party, which has faced growing comparisons with its main opposition.

Julie Minns, Carlisle’s Labour candidate at the next general election, said: “Rather than do something about the spiralling rates of shoplifting, anti-social behaviour, and the rising tide of violence against women and girls, the Tories have opted to target some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“Homelessness isn't a choice, and criminalising people for something they have no control over is cruel and heartless.”

Ms Minns added that it shows Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, is ‘devoid of compassion or too weak to stand up to the right wing of his party’.

A central government spokesperson said: "We are determined to end rough sleeping for good and we have a plan to tackle the root causes of why people end up on the streets, backed by an unprecedented £2.4billion.

They added the Vagrancy Act will be replaced with new legislation ‘focused on supporting people to get off the streets’ while allowing local authorities and the police to ‘address behaviour that can make the public feel unsafe’.