Oppose the Criminalisation of Squatting!

Amanda Patricia Walters of University of Manchester Students’ Union writes:

Amanda is the Campaigns Officer for University of Manchester Students' Union

The Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke has tabled an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to criminalise squatting in residential buildings. This will be debated in Parliament on Tuesday 1st of November, possibly for up to three days.

Why you should oppose it:

Firstly, this amendment will criminalise sit-ins and occupations in residential buildings, such as halls of residence. We should oppose this especially during a time when we are seeing halls of residence being privatised.

Secondly, many homeless and vulnerable people squat as the only way of avoiding rough sleeping. As the main driver for homeless people to squat is finding a roof over their heads the criminalisation of it is unlikely to serve as a deterrent. Squatting is a symptom of the housing crisis; if the root causes of homelessness were addressed through better provision of services and support, people would not squat.

Thirdly, the government did a consultation on what it should do about squatting. Over 90% of responses to the Government consultation were “concerned about the impact of criminalising squatting”. Introducing an amendment to the Legal aid bill is a disproportionate response to something that was so vehemently opposed.

Furthermore, there is existing law that the Metropolitan Police considered was broadly in the right place and that the existing array of offences allowed them to tackle the worst cases of squatting (e.g. where squatters cause the rightful homeowner to be displaced). Extending the law will be unworkable in practice. At a time where the public sector are experiencing cut backs, High Court Enforcement Officers argue that the Police do not have the resources to carry out evictions.

What you can do:

1. Contact your MP

There is an urgent need to contact your MP immediately to ask them to either oppose or suggest amendments to the legislation.

You can find your MP at http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/ Simply type in your postcode, and then click on the name of your MP, and there will be an email address. Mark your email as URGENT.

Ways to contact your MP:

– Email/Letter: If at all possible put it into your own words.

– Call: Ring their office and talk to them. If you can’t get through to them leave them a message saying vote against!

– Face-to-face: Try and book an appointment with them at their surgery. If they say they are too busy then see if they change their mind when you turn up with banners and the media.

Please SPREAD THIS AROUND – The more people putting pressure on MPs the better.

2. Join or organise a Sleep Out this Monday

We are going to have a coordinated Sleep Out this Monday to gather media attention around the issue and to remind people why homeless people need to squat. There are ones organised in London and Manchester so why not join them? Or organise your own?

3. Spread the word

Please tell as many people you know and encourage them to take action. Together we can stop this.

Editor’s Note: As professed latter day Diggers and Gerrard Winstanley followers I can’t see how we can possibly fail to respond to Amanda’s modest appeal for support on this, after all weren’t the 1649 Diggers all Squatters? MY QUESTION IS WHO’S UP FOR THE SLEEP OUT ON MONDAY THEN COMRADES? We can even catch a Manchester showing of the film GASLANDS at The Friends’ Meeting House beforehand. It starts at 6.45pm.

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