27 Jun 2011

Squatting rights threat: criminalising vulnerable people

"Only a truly uncivilised government would make it illegal to stay in empty buildings, while making people homeless." Ellie Mae O'Hagan

I haven't yet got into this tweeting thing but have managed to occasionally check out other tweets and this quote was one that caught my eye. This week the government has announced a short consultation on squatting.

It is no surprise that housing charities like Crisis and Shelter are against this move. We are in the midst of a housing crisis in which rents are increasing, people are struggling to get mortgages and housing benefit is being savaged. Here in Stroud we are told it could mean a further 500 people made homeless - can this really be true?!! See previous blog here. Almost 40% of homeless people resort to squatting at some point, and of these more than half have been to prison, 20% are alcohol-dependent and more than 30% have mental health problems.

Squatting is not some middle-class drop-outs game. A large proportion of squatters are very vulnerable people who are squatting because they don't have another choice. This law would be criminalising them. It's counter-productive. It's not going to address the underlying problems that these people face ie a lack of housing.

Groups representing squatters say precise numbers are hard to establish but that the government's estimate of 20,000 squatters is likely to be a significant underestimate.

Meanwhile, as Greens have pointed out repeatedly, 870,000 homes lie empty - and for that matter there's enough empty commercial property to create 420,000 new homes although many of those sites are needed for employment. SchNEWS argue that: "Far from being a social menace - squatting is a positive short-term solution to homelessness, requiring initiative and responsibility. It's free of government cost and management. To make it illegal right now is both stupid and inhumane could at best be described as foolish, at worst inhumane."

Enforcing the possible new laws will also cost - police, courts - and where will the folk go - most likely they will then claim housing benefit.

Let us not forget the law already provides virtually instant eviction for squatters who try a family home say while they are on holiday - this is provided by clauses allowing 'displaced residential occupiers' and 'protected intending occupiers' to force entry if their homes are occupied.

This challenge to squatting makes no sense.

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