Today 70% of Britain is owned by 0.4% of the population
This Monday I went to Parliament (home to the House of Land Lords) to help represent squatting at a seminar about Community Land Trusts. The last time I was there I saw Kenneth Clarke, (who was at the time rushing through a piece of legislation to criminalise squatting in residential properties) stand in front of a sparsely populated House and say that that he saw “no difference between stealing somebodies home and stealing somebodies car”.
I’ve never seen any property get driven away under cover of darkness. I have never seen people live in a car. I have never seen a car registered in a tax haven and left un-driven for decades waiting for the right price. I don’t remember reading the paper and finding out that the sell- off of affordable cars by local government was to blame for the housing crisis. Nor have I, and excuse me for being sarcastic, seen any squatter steal somebody’s home.
The squatted site where I live was left empty for 20 years. It is owned by an absentee land lord who holds several properties across the country. This one (classed as non-residential) is registered in a tax haven. The Council have been unable to stump up enough money to buy it and the local residents have been unable to turn it into communal land. This type of thing is no rare occurrence. The last empty building which we occupied was a five story London property registered in the haven of Liberia. It had been left empty for 5 years.
In late September I was interviewed on the BBC evening news about Alex Haigh – the first person to be imprisoned for squatting under the new legislation on ‘residential’ buildings. This twenty two year old trainee bricklayer will come out of Wormwood Scrubs having rubbed shoulders with hardened criminals. He will have a criminal track record and may never be able to work with children. His only crime was to move into an empty building – a property owned by a housing association. The Police came across him by accident and now he is in jail.
The BBC reporter was shocked when he interviewed the neighbours who were overwhelmingly opposed to the sentence – two of the three he interviewed were ex-squatters themselves!
Housing is a human right. Owning property is a human right too. Why have the Tories so aggressively asserted the right for people to own lots of properties and keep them empty against people’s right to a temporary shelter?
Perhaps the answer could be distilled by the phrase “false scarcity”. The housing activists, squatters, campaigners and academics at Monday’s seminar (hosted by Michael Meacher MP and Martin Large of the National Community Land Trust Network were all concerned about this. The way we buy and sell the roofs under which we live is based on the false market concept of scarce housing resources. Keeping properties empty (and therefore their availability scarce) translates as higher property prices for the minority of rich landlords. For everyone else it means forced exodus from office blocks and luxury flats, a housing crisis, record, evictions and record homelessness.
One land activist from Grow Heathrow told how they made use of a piece of land that had been misused and then abandoned by the owner:
“Just because land is privately owned it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t effect other people…as we move towards a global food crisis there is only so far we can go in asking people nicely when they have a vested interest in keeping it the same”
In the rubble of this market failure is the well hidden reality of abundance. There are nearly a million empty buildings in the UK (80,000 in London alone). But if we treat houses like cars, instead of essential things that we all need and must find a way of managing fairly, we give people the incentive to steal them.
Squatting in non-residential properties is still a civil matter
Occupy – create – resist