Mike Weatherley (MP for Hove) wants to criminalise squatting. Has he really thought this through? It should be made clear that if you are living in a building or just about to live in it, or are working on it, the law already provides very adequate protection against squatting through acts passed in 1977 and 1994. The law pertaining to squatting simply protects the occupiers of any building. Those unable to find shelter are able to do so;
Buildings which are falling into neglect can be occupied and repaired; Artists can find cheap atelier space. Is Weatherley thinking of people, or politics? If trespass is criminalised, ramblers, horse-riders, cyclists and so forth might conceivably face arrest. Do we want to live in a world where taking a wrong turn down a pathway or setting up your tent in a remote field could result in a criminal record?
Let’s take a look at the economics of squatting. If people cannot find work – which often is the case, especially in times of recession – the alternative to squatting is housing benefit. The cost of housing benefit for ten people over six months would typically be around £18,000, likely paid by the taxpayer to a private landlord. Let’s say these ten people squatted instead. If the owner chooses to evict them, the cost is £150 in court costs, plus the lawyer’s fee. Let’s say £500. Alternatively, If the owner chooses to negotiate with the squatters, they could avoid court costs altogether, and through a mutual agreement provide an incentive to behave in a responsible way. Unfortunately most property owners, even the council, seem to think themselves above talking directly to squatters.
Why make homelessness more of a problem than it already is in these hard times by changing the law? Why create another angry, dispossessed group of people? Many Argus readers will remember the ‘Sabotaj’ project that was set up near the Pavilion. The former Taj store was squatted for around 2 weeks, at the end of which an art show open to the public was put on. This is what the majority of squatters want to do with their time and resources – give back to the public. Yes, there are squatters who have drink and drugs issues, but these are in the minority and pose little problem besides leaving behind a superficial mess.
Squatting at its best is textbook ‘big society’ – it saves money, uses personal initiative, and can be for the public good. If the government were serious about their ideas and had a little open-mindedness, the idea of squatting would be developed, not frowned upon.
Note – Squatters Network of Brighton is prepared to talk to journalists prepared to write balanced articles. You can contact us in the first instance via snobaha AT gmail DOT com.