In his widely ignored speech at the Tory Party Conference, Pickles talked of last year’s Dale Farm eviction and warned that:
“I can announce today new powers for councils to literally stop those caravans in their tracks.
New instant Stop Notices will allow councils to issue unlimited fines for those who ignore planning rules and defy the law.”
Rarely has their been a better example of this Government’s mixture of casual brutality and gross stupidity than suggesting that people who are both transient, and often poor, should be given huge fines.
But it is perhaps the astonishing double standard which reveals the true intention. Pickles along with the rest of the government have been pushing for relaxation of planning laws, a move being resisted by many local authorities. Presumably this plan to “issue unlimited fines for those who ignore planning rules” will not apply to middle class home owners.
This racist move, should it ever actually come about, will be a new low for even this coalition. If you are rich build away. If you are poor, Roma, or an Irish traveller, then expect to be chased around the country for huge fines because you parked your caravan in a field your mate owned. Different laws for different ethnic groups, how chillingly familiar.
Pickles’ announcement came after he drew applause for the squatting ban, and boasted how the government had slashed the rights of peaceful protesters by legislating against ‘shanty towns’ like the Occupy Camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral.
All of these measures point to one thing. Those who live in vehicles, whether by choice or necessity, will be fined and harassed. Squatters will be jailed. Protest camps or ‘shanty towns’ will be violently shut down. Slowly but surely homelessness is being criminalised. On one hand the Government forces thousands into homelessness by cutting, or scrapping Housing Benefit. With the other it introduces new laws to ensure that those made homeless have nowhere to go.
The end result will not be pretty and is coming to a leafy home counties village near you. As Traveller Solidarity report:
“One year on, Dale Farm has been transformed into a virtual bombsite, filled with stagnant water, raw sewage and toxic waste. 83 homeless families are living on the roadside with no electricity, running water or sanitation.
As one mother put it, ‘Why would we be living here if we had somewhere else to go?’”
The residents of Dale Farm owned the land and had settled there after being tricked into believing planning permission would be granted for the site. It wasn’t and last year a violent eviction forced them from their homes and onto the roadside. The Dale Farm travellers warned they had nowhere to go, but no-one listened.
Every measure of homelessness is rising from families in B&Bs to those on the streets. If Housing Benefit is cut for those under 25 an explosion of youth homelessness is inevitable. Wages are stagnating and benefits being cut whilst rents soar. Next years benefit cap will make almost the whole of Greater London unaffordable for parents who are unable to work.
Homeless hostels are struggling for funds and the number of emergency bed spaces is falling. Women’s Refuges and other emergency housing projects may have been saved by yet another Universal Credit bodge but are still likely to be plunged into chaos by badly planned changes to housing benefits. The right to a council house is being removed in some Tory boroughs for those who are homeless, unemployed or low waged (but not quite low waged enough).
During the last Tory government sleeping bags lined the shopping streets of London, cardboard cities sprung up and homeless young people took to the road to become those who were known to everyone except themselves as ‘New Age Travellers’. Pickles was a snivelling sycophant of Margaret Thatcher whilst all this took place.
He aims to prevent it happening again, but not by building council homes or providing housing benefits which actually pay the rent. The only provision which is being made for the upcoming homelessness epidemic is new laws to criminalise those who find themselves without a roof.
A year on from the Dale Farm eviction and a mass action is taking place to fight for sites for travelling people on the 19th October. Meet at Victoria Station London at 1pm, more details on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/events/140070222801717/