‘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.’
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
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
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.