Between people and property: why the anti-squatting amendment must be opposed

The following piece is by Jacob, writing for The Third Estate.

The state, we are told, defends two things in the law: people and property. That is, the state are bad dialecticians, who forever stupidly butt their heads against the fact that these two things, people and property, often come into conflict. And of course, for the most part they come out on the side of property, at once proclaiming that protecting people is the same as protecting the “rights” (although never “abilities”) of people to own property. Thus this manifest contradiction is, apparently, “solved”. The solution comes with a dose of misery and suffering for most of the people involved. Through the enclosure of property from the people, ownership triumphs over humanity. The latest example being a proposed amendment to the legal aid, sentencing, and punishment bill proposed by Minister of Justice Ken Clarke to be discussed in Parliament in the coming week.

Clarke has proposed an amendment that would immediately criminalise squatting in residential properties. This new offence is to be punishable by six months imprisonment. According to the latest government statistics there are currently 20,000 squatters in the UK, whilst there are approximately 650,000 empty buildings. Currently there are 80,000 households within which homeless people live. It is estimated by the homelessness charity Crisis that 40% of people who are homeless have squatted at some point, and that of these 78% had attempted to get help from local councils with their living situation. If this amendment is to be enshrined in law, property will once again triumph over people, and an entire stratum of the most vulnerable and poorest in society will be criminalized. Such a policy can do nothing but to extend the gap between the haves and have-nots, and to encourage a culture of the acceptance of total deprivation.

It is hardly a surprise to most people that governments can be duplicitous, but the mode by which this new legislation is to be imposed is particularly concerning. There has been talk, by the government for a while now about the criminalization of squatting, and they even produced a mass consultation on the issue. But rather than bringing it to Parliament in a bill, the enclosures of the resources necessary for life away from the poorest parts of society is being snuck through as an amendment, announced at the last minute, such that serious campaigning and lobbying is made impossible.

Nonetheless, it is important that this legislation be challenged by all who struggle against poverty and suffering. The group Squatters Action for Secure Homes has asked that people write to their MPs asking them to vote against this amendment (there is a prepared letter here) and there will be a mass “sleep out” in protest meeting at High Street Kensington tube station at 6:30pm on Monday (31st October.) There is more information available here.

Please do share all of this through all of your networks. Time is against this campaign, and it is important to get as much support as possible, and quickly.