The government has been strongly criticised for the way this bill was conceived and introduced and for it's effects on the homeless and vulnerable in the community.
Leading up to the change in the law, a series of misleading stories about the nature of squatting and the law, were presented by politicians and disseminated through the right-wing press. In September 2011 an open letter was sent to the Guardian newspaper from 160 'legal academics, solicitors and barristers who practise in housing law acting for landlords, tenants, owners and occupiers' which sited numerous specific examples of the spread of misinformation around squatting law and which ended:
"We are very concerned that a proper debate over the value and effect of the new proposals to further criminalise occupation of buildings is threatened by widespread distortions of the current law. As the proposals would have far reaching consequences for many vulnerable people, there is a need for informed factual discussion rather than a response based on sensationalist misrepresentation. We believe that ministers should make clear the extent of the current law and the actual nature of the proposed reforms and correct any statements they have made which are likely to have confused the public. We further believe that newspapers and other media have a duty to inform their readers, rather than create fear and confusion through misrepresentation."
Full letter here: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/sep/25/squatting-law-media-politicians
"Sections of the corporate media, in collusion with the Tories, have been conducting an active campaign of misinformation, serving to create confusion about existing legislation on squatting and attempting to construct ‘public demand’ for criminalisation. Then, as if ‘responding’ to this public demand, the government announced its intentions to criminalise squatting and launched a consultation, ‘Options for Dealing with Squatting’, which closed on the 5th October. Twenty days later the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reported the results of the consultation, in which 96% of respondents were opposed to any further criminalisation of squatting. Despite this, the next day the MoJ announced new Clause 26 to the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Bill [later named section 144], to criminalise all squatting in residential buildings. The Legal Aid Bill was also already at its third reading in the House of Commons, past the committee stage, and Clause 26 was discussed and passed by MPs four working days after its announcement by the MoJ. The government introduced criminalisation through the back door by adding a last minute clause that received little to no scrutiny in the commons."
see full interview: http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4198
SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes) is a voluntary group that was originally set up to resist the Tory government’s first attempts to criminalise squatting as part of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994. Working with different groups that were fighting other problematic elements in the Criminal Justice Act, SQUASH were able to successfully stop the criminalisation of squatting in the UK in the 1990s. In March 2011 When it seemed the current Tory government was readying itself for a fresh attack on squatting, SQUASH reformed to start the fight again. As SQUASH is a pro-squatting campaign group, I have tried to access the government's records of their public consultation to verify the above statement, but the page: http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/consultations/options-dealing-squatting-response.pdf just displays a message stating the government is scanning the document for viruses.
"Squatting is a highly divisive, politicised and sensitive issue. Legitimate concerns about incidents of squatting must be addressed, but we urge the government not to rush through new criminal laws in a knee-jerk reaction to high profile media stories. We believe that the current law is sufficient to protect most homeowners and tenants. Squatters who are asked to leave premises by these occupiers and refuse to do so are already committing a criminal offence."
None of the people who have been arrested under section 144 have been accused of using somebody's home, each was sheltering in an abandoned property. In February this year Daniel Gauntlett was found frozen to death where he had been sleeping on the doorstep of an abandoned bungalow. He had attempted to enter the bungalow previously but had been stopped by the police.
Since the passing of section 144 one year ago, the housing crisis in London has become more extreme. House prices, both mortgages and rents, have continued to rise along with food and fuel prices, while real income has dropped. These factors have combined with a massive shortage of social housing and council housing and the government's new cap on housing benefits and introduction of a bedroom tax, to leave thousands in London in crisis situations. As Professor Danny Dorling pointed out in his May 2013 talk 'The Great Housing Disaster':
"people are now spending more on housing on average in the UK than on anything else."
Against this backdrop the government seems to be moving towards an extension of section 144 which will criminalise squatting in all non-residential properties and will effectively mean that anyone making use of an abandoned building that they don't own will be subject to criminal prosecution.
This exhibition seeks to celebrate the creative and social benefits that squatting has provided to people in the capital, and to explore the empowering potential for change that squatting can offer to the wider population.
'Made Possible by Squatting' presents photographs, illustrations, stories, poetry, fanzines, posters, videos and dissertations sharing varied experiences of squatting from the immediate and personal to the historical and social. I am showing some of my pictures from European squatted projects in the show and two photographers that I have had the privilege of exhibiting with before: Adrian Nettleship and Phil Evans are also both showing their photos of squats.
9th-16th September 2013
15, Dock Street, London, E1 8JN
Exhibition// Archive// Workshops
London has 72,457 empty homes.
Rent is Too High.
As the Housing Crisis deepens we see;
> government policies of Cuts to Housing Benefit
>> the Bedroom Tax introduced
>>> regeneration that equals unaffordable 'Affordable' Housing
Made Possible by Squatting presents an archive of histories and stories of how Londoners have met their needs and desires through squatting the empty buildings which fill our city.
With over 30 stories from Crossroads Womens Centre, to Islington Housing Co-op, Ramparts, and Clifton Mansions these histories will be traced through a series of film, illustration, photos, archive posters, workshops, and more!
The exhibition itself aims to be part of this tradition- but it happens in the context of repression. With the squatting of residential buildings already outlawed last year, and the further ban on commercial squats looming on the horizon, there has never been a more necessary time to celebrate squatting histories.
>>> when Housing is a Luxury, Squatting is a Necessity
Better to Squat than let Homes Rot<<<
Opening Hours 11am-10pm (see website for workshop timetable)
Nearest Tube: Tower Hill, Aldgate, Aldgate East
Follow us on:
The evening featured a 'Radical History of the East End' talk that included a lively description of the 1936 'battle of cable street', and haircuts were given in the corner. These activities were followed by a jam session from talented local musicians. Evidence of the afternoon's screen-printing workshops were dotted about the place, and new exhibits waited to be installed.
On Saturday afternoon at 6pm I will be giving an illustrated talk about some of the Spanish projects I have visited recently, and there are interesting activities running all week.
Section 144 - the law - http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/section/144/enacted
Open Letter to Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/sep/25/squatting-law-media-politicians
Interview with SQUASH CAMPAIGNER: http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4198
Shelter response to government consultation: http://england.shelter.org.uk/professional_resources/policy_and_research/policy_library/policy_library_folder/response_-_options_for_dealing_with_squatting
Death of Daniel Gauntlett: http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kent_messenger/news/2013/february/28/frozen_man.aspx
Listen to Professor Danny Dorling's talk, 'The Great Housing Disaster' https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/202-great-housing-disaster/id422300067?i=159244590
Made Possible by Squatting: http://www.madepossiblebysquatting.co.uk/
Review of Made Possible By Squatting from the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/news/blog/2013/sep/10/squatting-exhibition-outlawed-but-still-relevant