Open letter to Chuka Umunna,Tessa Jowell & Lib Peck

Dear Chuka Umunna, Dame Tessa Jowell and Lib Peck

We are writing to you with profound disappointment after reading about a letter you recently signed calling for the further criminalisation of squatting in commercial properties, (the contents of which have now been published in London’s Evening Standard newspaper).

We are shocked to see Labour members seeking to criminalise squatters – a group of people that includes some of the most vulnerable people in our society. There is something deeply wrong when Labour is calling on the Tories to punish more poor and vulnerable people.

With one of the worst housing crises this country has ever seen, squatting is a necessity. As you must be aware, there are 1 million empty properties in this country, while the numbers of street homeless are spiralling. Squatters have a proud history of taking over abandoned buildings and bringing them back into use to make homes. This has always happened, particularly in times of serious housing struggles.

Not only should squatting not be further criminalised; the recent criminalisation of squatting in residential properties should be repealed. Young, vulnerable people are being punished and there is no evidence to support your suggestion that criminalisation has brought “welcome relief” to the home-owners of Lambeth. No one arrested so far under the new criminal offence has been caught in anyone’s home. Squatting has always been about empty properties – not peoples homes.

You talk of two cases in Brixton, including one particularly concerning story of a violent assault. Let us be clear with you: criminalising squatting will not prevent incidents such as this from happening. It will simply mean they happen on the streets and in the car parks where people are forced to sleep instead. People squat because the other options open to them are worse, and with homelessness providers already working at capacity, there is no doubt that the victims of this law will find themselves in even more dangerous and destructive situations.

As Labour MPs you should already be aware of the things that have been ‘made possible by squatting‘ over the years. This is the name of an exhibition on now in London which we would urge you to go and visit before making such dangerously ill-judged comments. Andy Slaughter (Labour Shadow Justice Minister) was opposed to criminalisation previously so you could also have a word with him.

We would appreciate an immediate response.

Yours Sincerely,

Joseph Blake, SQUASH Campaign Press Officer

John Mcdonnell, Labour MP Hayes & Harlington