Rise in squatting ‘as a barometer of the times’

Last month, the Daily Fail started something, the Independent joined in with their ‘anarchist collectives living rent-free in Georgian townhouses‘, and the Torygraph took it upon themselves to campaign for a change in the law, and Grant Shapps the Housing minister took it up. Now they are looking to make squatting a criminal offence, a crime, in England and Wales. It already is in Scotland.

The Advisory Service for Squatters replied with an open letter to the Daily Mail.

The Washington Post had a piece (last year), a tad more balanced than the Mail and Telegraph, the feature ‘Recession Revives Britain’s Squatter Movement’ sees a rise in squatting ‘as a barometer of the times’, and makes the still relevant and important point that  ‘home repossessions soared … to about 45,000 last year and could reach 75,000 this year, creating new homeless people and new empty houses’.

Under current law squatting is not a criminal offence. It is a civil matter, if a property owner wants to get squatters out they have to take it to court. Squatters have certain rights. And so they should have. Squatters are caretakers and home-makers, they make homes out of buildings that more often than not have been left to rot, needlessly, sometimes intentionally, some houses are simply bricks-n-mortar investments sitting til a profit can be made.

Why do they want to turn the homeless into criminals for helping themselves rather than making it a crime to create homelessness, empty homes and perpetuate the shortage of decent affordable housing?

Or is it more of a reaction to activists cleverly ‘reclaiming the dead investment space of the wealthy‘? Because it’s not just about homes for the homeless. There is a history of abandoned buildings like schools, libraries, swimming baths, shops, even old police stations and jobcentres being put to good use by and for local communities. What Scotland lacks thanks to it’s law criminalising squatting, we notice, is free spaces and real community centres or social centres. Free as in gratis, and free as in non-commercial.

As the cuts kick in and public services are reduced we might see more empty edifices ready to be turned into positive community spaces.

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