‘It is true that some of those who are homeless have squatted but this does not make them squatters. A typical squatter is middle class, web-savvy, legally minded, university-educated and, most importantly, society-hating.’
Mike Weatherley, Tory MP for Hove
Not content with having made it illegal for homeless people to put a roof over their heads in empty residential properties, the same people who brought us last year’s ban on squatting are now trying to extend it to empty commercial properties too. Fired up with the same sort of prejudiced misinformation that formed the backdrop to the original campaign to criminalise squatters, Mike Weatherley has tabled an early day motion in parliament to this effect. It had gathered 24 signatures as Red Pepper went to press, including the Labour MPs Paul Flynn and Mary Glindon and the Liberal Democrats’ Mike Hancock.
While the sheer stupidity of some statements from supporters of the ban is almost comical (another from Weatherley on squatters: ‘these people are anti-capitalists and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it’), the consequences of the new law are no laughing matter. Campaigners such as SQUASH, (Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes) are still fighting to highlight the real issues at stake since section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force last September.
The opening quote from Weatherley was made to the local paper The Argus, in response to claims that the law he had so keenly promoted had resulted in its first fatality. Daniel Gauntlett, a 35 year-old homeless man in Kent, froze to death in February after police warned him not to enter an empty bungalow, due for demolition, on the doorstep of which he later died.
So far, 33 people have been arrested under the new law, which makes it a crime to ‘trespass’ into a residential property with the intention of living there, punishable by up to six months in prison and a £5,000 fine. Ten were convicted, with three receiving custodial sentences, while research by squatting support networks such as Advisory Service for Squatters, SQUASH and the Squatters’ Legal Network has identified at least 108 people who have been displaced after being threatened with prosecution by police. Given that accurate figures are not readily available – many police forces are treating the offence as non-recordable – this is just the tip of what many groups working with homeless people believe could be a very big iceberg.
What is clear is that in contrast to the images of ‘home stealing’ squatters conjured up in the imaginations of the media and politicians – caricatures resting on prejudiced portrayals of eastern European migrants and ‘feral’ middle-class youth – the law has disproportionately affected homeless and vulnerable people. This is exactly what opponents of the law, including homeless charities such as Crisis, Shelter and the Simon Community, had predicted.
Of the three people jailed for squatting, all were genuinely homeless, vulnerable, and in one case struggling with substance abuse problems. As the SQUASH report The Case Against S144, recently presented in the House of Commons, summarised: ‘As expected, a law that was introduced to “protect home owners” is, ultimately, putting homeless people in jail simply for trying to avoid rough sleeping.’
The report is backed by lawyers, homeless charities, academics and MPs. The broader campaign includes MPs such as John McDonnell, who has tabled an early day motion to repeal S144. A chorus of 40 legal experts, most recently in a letter published in the Guardian, has reiterated the fact that previous laws already protected home owners and intended occupiers. There was no need to introduce additional criminal sanctions, and no justification for extending them further.
‘There is no evidence that the law is being used to protect home owners, which it was claimed the law was for. No one has been arrested for squatting someone else’s home; it’s been for squatting empty properties,’ says SQUASH campaigner Gianni Barlassina. ‘What we’ve been saying all along is that squatting is a homelessness issue, not a criminal issue. It should be treated for what it is.’
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
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It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
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Event: Take Back Control Croydon
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Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform