On 1st September 2012 an ancient legal right will be lost to the people of the UK as the ban on squatting finally comes into law. Treasonous MPs from all main parties overwhelming voted last year to remove the right of the homeless to occupy unused spaces without fear of arrest and prosecution.
No doubt pre-empting the upcoming homelessness crisis, the legislation banning squatting was rail-roaded through Parliament despite 90% of responses to a Government Consultation rejecting the ban.
It is vital to note that only squatting in residential premises is affected by the law and that the fight to save squatting is far from over. The Advisory Service for Squatters notes that a building is defined as ‘residential’ if it is “designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live”. Many squatters will not be affected, check the Squatters Advisory website for full details of the upcoming legal position.
Like so much legislation rushed through by this toff Government, there is likely to be chaos as the law is implemented and bewildered coppers face complex legal arguments on squat doorsteps. Private tenants may also find themselves vulnerable as unscrupulous landlords attempt to exploit the new laws to illegally evict tenants.
But this has mattered little as the privileged public school boys and girls of all parties have conspired to destroy a vital part of the UK’s political and cultural heritage on the back of a few tabloid scare stories.
Proceeding the legislation, a string of smear stories appeared in the media deriding squatters. Lurid tales of families returning home from holiday only to find their homes squatted appeared alongside headlines demanding that ‘something must be done’. None of these fabricated tales mentioned that there are numerous laws in place to address these occurrences - which are so rare that they demand a full page story in the national press.
Any house-holder currently living in a property or intending to move into one, was fully protected by the law as it stood. Any house-holder returning to their home to find people living there could have them removed by police as easily as if the intruders were burgling the property. Squatters themselves are only too aware of this fact which is why abandoned and often derelict properties are frequently sought out to provide homes.
Squatters have been portrayed as middle class artists, trustafarians or hippies at best, and benefit scum, criminals, or even worse, Eastern Europeans at worst as part of a relentless smear campaign. It is true that squatting has contributed to the cultural heritage of this country, but squatting is not a movement rooted in counter-culture.
Squatting has been at the heart of political struggle in the UK since the Peasant’s Revolt. Shortly after the Second World War, tens of thousands of families squatted former air bases and military camps. Even today many street homeless people shelter in abandoned buildings as protection from the elements. Homelessness charity Crisis has stated that 39% of homeless people have squatted at some point. As from next week, these people will be liable to arrest.
As rents soar, wages stagnate, Housing Benefits are slashed and social housing provision is demolished, the homelessness crisis facing the UK is possibly unprecedented. Therefore it is of little surprise that a Government, many of whom are landlords themselves, should seek to criminalise this scant safety net for the homeless.
According the the Squash Campaign the UK currently has 750,000 empty homes, many of them owned by banks, large corporations, offshore companies and other potential donors to political parties. These homes will stay empty whilst homelessness soars.
Should sleeping bags once again line the streets of city centres, this law may yet unravel as it becomes impossible to police. Until then fierce and determined campaigning may yet reveal the legislation to be a paper tiger – Holland still has many large squats despite the ban introduced over two years ago. The fight to save squatting rights is not yet over and may have only just begun.