The Homed and the Homeless 79

I cannot raise an iota of interest in which Conservative Tory, or which Lib Dem Tory, occupies which Cabinet post. I am much more concerned that the government has made squatting a criminal act, ending 35 years of statute law and 400 years of common law protection for the homeless. How did this happen without significant public debate when the legislation was going through?

Most Cabinet jobs provide extremely posh taxpayer funded housing, in addition to the several other homes most politicians of rank appear to own. Meantime an estimated 50,000 people in England and Wales have just become criminals for living in what are, indubitably, their homes if not their property.

The right and wrongs of squatting are complex and highly dependent on the individual circumstances. But I have little sympathy for the owners of second (holiday) homes, or investment properties which attract squatters. My own home in Ramsgate is one of three identical properties in a row, one of which has been completely empty for at least two years. Homelessness, housing shortage and housing misallocation are complex problems. But the idea that the solution is to use the full weight of the state against whe weakest and most disadvantaged individuals in the conundrum, is not one any decent person should entertain.

Yet again, I find myself completely perplexed by the coalition government doing things nobody genuinely in the tradition of British liberalism could possibly entertain. More puzzling still, I know Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, and he is friendly, kind, earnest and well-meaning. I cannot understand the strange power of collective ativism which appears to take over those in government.

The police, of course, instantly have 50,000 new criminals to arrest, and indeed a bounden duty to go out and arrest them. Several chief constables will be keen on this, as squatters are a very easy target compared to real criminals and their clear-up statistics will look good. I am trying to rationalise this extraordinary excrescence of the arrogance of the propertied classes. Perhaps the Occupy Movement and this are symptoms of a kind of Reformation and Counter-Reformation in modern thought. Or perhaps the UK really is becoming a particularly horrible kind of place to live.

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79 thoughts on “The Homed and the Homeless

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  • technicolour

    Thanks very much for writing about this. It is extraordinary: hardly a murmur. I know many people – ranging from ex-soldiers to students – who are squatting in abandoned, semi-derelict houses because they have no choice, and they are suddenly now criminals, who can be sent to prison for six months and fined £5000.

    I think you’re quite right and that squatters are easy targets. But I think they are also important targets – movements like Occupy and anarchist movements often spring from people living in squats, and often revolve around squats. It is possibly a sign that they are resonating too much with the feelings of the public.

    I’m not sure that anyone decent in government stands much of a chance in this climate,unless they have massive confidence with it: Cameron’s ideas about cutting housing benefit for under 25s were, after all, designed to please his peers. Toby Young and people like him are not at all concerned with the poor or the underprivileged. Did you read about the rise of the (extremer) right in the Conservative party?

  • Rich Tee

    I agree that Britain is an increasingly horrible place to live in. It feels like there is no place for honest, hard working people anymore.
    I disagree on Grant Shapps. His “internet marketing” firm has turned out to be an Get Rich Quick scam operation, as reported in the Guardian and Telegraph yesterday.

  • Stephen Morgan

    There’s another option off the table. Being between 25 and 35 I’ve just had my housing benefit cut from £80 a week, which is the amount of my rent, to £55 a week. Have decided the revolutionary socialists might be onto something after all.

  • d.boyle

    On Al jazeera a debate with Ratansi raised the issues in US. A developing trend is to convert empty homes into assets for banks in order to rent out at extortionate rates, Home ownership is becoming a thing of the past, people are becoming perpetual debt slaves just to have the basic human right of shelter

  • evgueni

    A popular joke in the Ukraine, after 20 or so years of playing with representative democracy: “What is Evil?” “It is Good elected into a position of power.” Really, it is just paraphrasing Proudhon – “Parliament is King with 600 heads”. The problem is systemic and very old. The remedy, it exists. But first the proles have to realise, slowly, painfully, that elections alone do not a democracy make. Popular sovereignty makes a democracy, and choosing the least bad bunch of opportunists once every 4-5 years does not even approximate to popular sovereignty. And I haven’t even mentioned popular news media – MSM (OK, I have now)..

  • John Goss

    The last factory I worked in went bankrupt and the building was used as a squat. Even when I worked there it rained in every time it rained heavily. I wouldn’t want to live there. I wasn’t all that keen on working there. But I would not like to see those who live there deprived of a home. Yes how did it slip through unnoticed?

    Talking of second homes, cars, jets and the like, who has a whole load of them?

  • Komodo

    Glad you brought this one up, Craig. Underlying the issue is the assumption that a home is a speculative investment, not an essential commodity. The Tories, and their flexible friends, can’t think outside that particular box, and they are also aware that if they cannot re-inflate the housing bubble, their version of capitalism is down the toilet.

    I can’t blame squatters for tampering with Proudhon’s dictum: “property is theft”. And I can’t condone property investors for leaving habitable property uninhabited.

  • gary smith

    hello craig

    thanks for your support of assange and as for iran i dont know but there is a very interesting article re geopolitical tactics here

    i read your blog regularly and to be honest i have very little experience of what goes down amongst tptb, but i think you self identify with much that goes on and take it to heart, which may explain the times you cool off the blog.

    squatting is something i know about which i did in the `90s living in brixton and stamford hill. there is a very interesting history to this subject, soldiers returning from ww2, the hippy and punk movements of the 70s and 80s. some very famous people have been squatters, and as usual there are 2 sides at least to any story.
    in my own experience the people i lived with in brixton were largely middle class, students, musicians, people running indie record labels. it was a good time, more or less, and yes it can be a centre for anti establishment thought and action. following the trafalgar sq. poll tax riots some people that were being hunted by the press, stayed there briefly as a safe house. eventually this place became a housing association property and the squatters became legal tenants.
    in stamford hill the property i lived in needed underpinning and the council did not have the resources to repair it. we were taken to the high court, a place which really impressed me, a certain master thomas heard our opinion amicably and with intelligence. we explained that we were actually protecting the property by keeping it heated and keeping the rain out. the borough solicitor agreed with us and we came to an agreement to leave without further legal action when the council wanted the property back. we remained there for about another 2 years.
    squatters are not always nice to have as neighbours, some of the wilder squatters i knew had serious drug, alcohol and mental problems and in one case the house burnt down. not good.
    ive kept my eyes open since moving on and to be honest its my opinion that the recent influx of Romanians have completely destroyed the whole squatting `scene`. countless articles in the press of how they just move in to a property even if occupied (while owner/tenant on holiday or ill) and just throw out all the legal tenants belongings and just act with impunity and contempt. after that no squatter is going to get the time of day from anyone.
    tony blair and labour can be thanked for that, the tories just put the lid on it.
    if as you say there are some 50,000 squatters well that will cost the govt 50,000x£100/week in housing benefit, so thats £5m a week x 52 = £260 million a year plus the cost of the depreciation/damage to the vacant property say £5-10k /year per property, smart thinking LOL
    all politicians are scum, period.


  • Jay

    Another note is not only how many houses left empty but the attirude, trend, and culture,
    Splits families and those isolated are left to find their own way.

    Dont families stick together more in other cultures.

    Also how may one person households love in 4 bedroom houses obviously to big and not suitable.
    If we offered altwenatibe housea and communities for individuals this would free up unlimited beds.
    The w hole sitiation is diabolic our way of life is most disturbing and we adverrise as the pinnacle of society.

    Families oughy to take care of their own, right or wrong?

  • Zoologist

    Great link there Gary. Engdahl is always worth a ad.
    People need to grasp the bigger picture before it’s too late.

  • Frazer

    Don’t know on this one.
    I think it is designed to protect people whom come back from vacation etc, and find thier home has been rented to a bunch of East European wide boys, by someone who conned them into thinking it is empty….
    I believe there has been several cases recently like this and the poor homeowner has to spend thousands on legal fees trying to get them out while they wreck the place…..Mind you, if that happened to me I wouldn’t bother with a legal process, I would be round there sharpish with several mates with baseball bats and to hell with the consequences !

  • evgueni

    Thanks Jon, I do still lurk regularly but seldom have time to contribute these days – new child, new location, 2 new jobs all in the last 12 months. A gentelman of leisure I am not, sadly 🙂

  • Jon

    @Frazer – I’ve already made a note not to set up a squat in your house. I expect the landmines in the garden are not ornamental!

  • Komodo

    I think it is designed to protect people whom come back from vacation etc, and find their home has been rented to a bunch of East European wide boys, by someone who conned them into thinking it is empty….

    Fine and dandy, but it hits everyone with no alternative recourse for accommodation. And provides no alternative recourse, unless jail (costing the taxpayer what?) is intended to be one. Stick would be a lot more justifiable if a carrot were visible.

  • Stephen Morgan

    People who break into occupied houses have never had any legal protection, unlike squatters. The recent spate of cases of police simply refusing to do anything about it stinks of intentional fear-mongering to slur the good name of squatters.

  • OldMark

    ‘How did this happen without significant public debate when the legislation was going through?’

    Probably because this has been the position in Scotland for some time-

    Tha statue law to which Craig refers, the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, which was passed as a consequence of the Callaghan-Steel Lib/Lab pact, never applied to Scotland- and of course English Common Law is so-called because it is an alien concept North of the border. However Craig is right in thinking that some over zealous box ticking Chief Constables see this as a good wheeze to improve the ‘clear-up’ rate.

    Stephen Morgan- sorry to hear of your predicament. All ‘single & childless’ HB claimants under 35 are now deemed to be entitled only to the ‘room sharers’ rate, and not the full rate. If you get hitched, and get your beloved promptly pregnant, the old rate will still apply.

  • Cryptonym

    Very many with second and nth homes, already due to pay only a portion of full council tax for those properties are evading even that by claiming the houses are on the market and for sale, to reduce their liability to nothing. They are unadvertised or marketed and the asking prices are so over-inflated, entry conditions impossible, ‘sellers’ evasive as to ensure their sale is extremely unlikely. This also contributes to keeping the housing price bubble intact. It seems as if changes to law in this area have served to create such loopholes than remove them.

  • Frazer

    @ Stephen… A friend of mine found squatters in his house in Manchester when he came back from a vacation in Italy a few years ago. He called the police and when they arrived, the squatters insisted that they had entered from an open door and that the property was empty, the police believed them despite the fact that a neighbour had reported a burglar alarm going off a week before. The squatters managed to disable it, and used the back garden to come and go from the property not alerting the neighbours.

    When he arrived back with his family there were 11 of these people in his house and it took him 7 months to get them out costing about £11,000 in legal fees…. when they were eventually evicted they had trashed his house and his insurance company refused to pay for repairs because they said he was not covered. This event led him into suffering a breakdown and the loss of his marriage as his wife could not cope. Squatters mate, scum the lot of them. Bang them up, shoot them or send them to North Korea for all I care. About the best thing this bloody govt has done!!

  • MarkU

    Frazer, Komodo et al.

    I think that you are in danger of inadvertently perpetuating myths about squatters. The notion that squatters can legally move into your home when you are on holiday is nothing but a fiction created by the tabloids decades ago. I remember an original famous case (sorry cannot remember the name) given much publicity by the papers, in which allegedly some folks returned from holiday to find that their home was occupied by squatters who had ‘squatters rights’ and who could not therefore be easily evicted. The homeowners in question were lying, they were not living there, it was a second home up for sale.

    Even back in the day, there was the ‘protected intending occupier’ who could with very little ado have the offending parties evicted. I suspect that the media have been up to their old tricks again, perpetuating scare stories in order to pave the way for a change to the law.

  • Mary

    From a viewing on the BBC Six O’Clock News the other night of Grayling and Shapps attending a police raid in Southall, ostensibly to cut out the ‘beds in sheds’ phenomenon, but really to pick up illegal immigrants, I would not call Shapps kind or well meaning. It was a photo opportunity to put out the message,’ We’re after you.’ They were both grinning. It was disgusting and seemed pretty cruel to me. The people living in these dumps are exploited by greedy landlords/house owners and have nowhere else to live.

    btw my local town has six empty houses for every homeless family on the council list.

  • technicolour

    “Squatters mate, scum the lot of them”… O yes; like the tidy, proud ex-army guy I met last month in Devon; PTSD after Gulf War 1. Or the 20 year old who ran away from her abusive family. Or the supply teacher interviewed in the Guardian recently. Who needs the Mail?

  • Clanger

    Didn’t that nasty man Gadaffi guarantee housing for everyone in Libya? No wonder he had to be got rid of; setting such a bad example on how to govern.

  • Cryptonym

    PTSD is largely a myth, from the same school of pyschiatry that gave us (MPD) multiple personality disorder –the power of suggestion. That is not to say that people are not traumatised in the short term by unpleasant events, but the mentally healthy promptly recover.

    Not attacking the main thrust of your point Technicolour, just that sacred cow.

  • Steve Cook

    I haven’t read this thread yet, so don’t know if anyone else has mentioned it. But, it also happens to be the case that an EU directive is on the way whereby any DIY vehicle-conversion to make into a habitation is about to be made illegal
    So, if you are homeless and skint you now can’t squat in an empty property nor can you live in your own vehicle. Nice.

    You WILL submit

    You will NOT resist

    There is NO ESCAPE from the Matrix

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