Hello, friends, fellow squatters and mischief makers.
I am sorry someone from SQUASH couldnâ€™t be there, but in our absence thereâ€™s a few things Iâ€™d like to say. Especially to you lot from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In 2012 the ConDeM coalition rushed through a law which would criminalise squatting in residential buildings. When Lawyers, Politicians, Lords, Ladies, homeless charities and even the Police were all saying it was a bad idea. Most importantly the vast majority of those who had squatted or new people who were squatting and understood the issues at hand were saying no as well. The general public was softened up to the idea by years of right wing media vilification. So there were no riots on the streets when they sneaked it onto the legal aid bill.
Squatters were attacked by Politicians such as Mike Weatherley who had decided that rather than try to solve any of the real issues, he would try and score political points by crusading against a minority group. Squatters across the country mobilised and fought the proposed law on many fronts. 1000â€˜s signed petitions, protests were held where heads were split open by the truncheons of the police, press stunts, celebrities and journalists and so many more came to speak up for squatting as lifeline for the most vulnerable in society. Alas it was not enough to defeat the powerful elites. They passed the law and on the 1st September 2012 it came into effect.
Since then we have seen the ill thought out law wreak havoc in peoples lives. Alex Haigh was its first victim. He was completing an internship as a bricklayer and started to squat when he found himself homeless with no place to go. The sentenced him to 12 weeks in prison. Upon hearing the news his father said â€œThey have made an example of him. To put him in that prison environment, I donâ€˜t understand it.â€ Cameron Makepeace was another victim. Just 18 years old he started to squat after losing his apprenticeship and having problems getting job seekersâ€˜ allowance and housing benefit. WE WILL NEVER FORGET Daniel Gauntlett who died on the porch of a boarded up Bungalow. The police had come round earlier that week to inform him that if he went inside he would be arrested.
In light of all this SQUASH launched the REPEAL S144 campaign where they provided a body of evidence as to why the law was unnecessary and unjust. (see below) for full details.
Now not content with the hurt and destruction they have caused with criminalising squatting in residential buildings Mike Weatherleys and his gang decided they were going to try and make it a jailable offence to squat in commercial property as well. This time theyâ€™ve even got some labour politicians involved. Including Chuka Umunna the shadow business secretary. One of the reasons they give is that since the ban on residential there has been a spike in squatting in commercial buildings… Needless to say most of these people are heartless pricks who would do just about anything to secure a financial contribution to their party. Due to direct actions by squatters all over the country, strategic lobbying by SQUASH and others and a sustained media campaign the governments official line is that they will not go after commercial squatting in this term of government, but its on the agenda if the Tories are reelected.
Now is not the time to sleep though. Now is the time to shout. Over the past few years the reputation of squatters has been dragged through the mud. This has resulted in a bad public perception of squatters. If you are doing positive squatting actions, why not tell people about them. In your local newspaper, on twitter and on facebook. Write a blog, take pictures, make a movie. Itâ€™s time to reclaim squattingâ€™s place as a lifeline for the most vulnerable, the fuel of culture and an avenue to voice descent outside of the mainstream. Use hash tags like #madepossiblebysquatting and #lovesquatting, speak to your neighbours. So many choose a life of squatting to reclaim part of their individuality, but the harsh reality is that if you speak as a squatter now you speak for thousands of people. People like Daniel Gauntlett who may still be alive today if he were able to take refuge in an empty bungalow without fear of arrest.
We need to be organised and prepared so make sure at events like this you leave with lots of peoples email addresses and phone numbers so if they come we are more prepared than ever. Most importantly realise that you are a part of a 400 year old tradition and that we all have a responsibility to the next generation of squatters.
Enjoy the week in Ireland and Solidarity to all those fighting housing struggles where ever they may be.
-Member of SQUASH
SQUASH is always happy to help with issues regarding the media. So if youâ€™d like some
advice on how to convey your message donâ€™t hesitate to send us an e-mail.
SQUASH is always looking for people who feel comfortable speaking to the media and may
also be able to provide training to do so. We also need people to help plan campaigns and
projects. So if youâ€™d like to get involved please let us know
On 4 March 2013, SQUASH launched a new campaign and report at a meeting in the House of Commons of concerned MPs, Lords, lawyers, homelessness groups, academics, campaigners and squatters.
The campaign is calling for a repeal of Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO), the new criminal offence of squatting in a residential building. A petition has been set up here.
Here are 10 reasons why:
1. The new law is unnecessary and obsolete. Home-owners were already protected by the Criminal Law Act 1977, which made squatting in someones home or a home that someone intends to move into a criminal offence. Nearly every article on squatting in the tabloids up to now has failed to mention this.
2. Homelessness rates are soaring and predicted to rise even further due to government cuts and the recession. Since 2009 the government has slashed funding to homelessness services and is now pushing ahead with cuts to housing benefits.
3. We are in one of the worst housing crises this country has ever seen but at the same time there are over 1 million properties sitting empty across the UK â€“ this figure is still rising. Criminalisation protects the â€˜rightsâ€™ of owners to profit on the property market by keeping buildings empty, over peopleâ€™s right to shelter.
4. Rents have spiralled out of control. Whilst politicians and sections of the media seek to demonise all squatters as freeloaders, there are more and more people who simply simply canâ€™t afford rental accommodation and are turning to squatting out of desperation, including teachers, nurses and students.
5. 40% of single homeless people have squatted as an alternative to street sleeping. Criminalising squatting is criminalising vulnerable homeless people during a housing crisis. Innocent people are being put in jail for trying to gain a roof over their head.
6. Because alternatives to homelessness are dire; hostels, b&bâ€™s and temporary accommodation are often overcrowded, unsafe and inadequate solutions which undermine human dignity and decency. â€˜Social housingâ€™ is now increasingly provided by unaccountable private companies rather than elected local councils.
7. If predictions from respected housing academics prove correct and if the MOJ continues prosecuting at the rate it anticipates, criminalisation will cost up to Â£790 million over 5 years due to the costs of extra policing, prosecution and the extra burden on the housing benefit system.
8. The law was rushed through Parliament. 3 days before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill passed the House of Commons, the clause to criminalise squatting was â€œsneaked inâ€. There was no specialist input from legal experts or academics regarding what effect the legislation would have.
9. Mike Weatherley MP, one of the main voices behind criminalisation, is possibly the worst politician ever to have been born. His brand of fantastical Tory rhetoric blurs the real issues by painting all squatters as â€˜window -smashing- anarcho- hippie- dope- youth- lefty- scarecrowsâ€™. We know that this just isnâ€™t the case.
10. Because we want to live in a society where people arenâ€™t forced to squat rather than being criminalised for having to.