As of midnight tonight, under clause 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, squatting in residential properties will become illegal holding a penalty of up to £5,000 and six months in prison.
The housing minister Grant Shapps summarised the new move saying,
“No longer will there be so-called squatters’ rights. Instead, from next week, we’re tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear: entering a property with the intention of squatting will be a criminal offence.”
This new measure will affect 20,000 people who currently squat in the UK. It is estimated that about 40% of all homeless people will resort to squatting at some point.
Housing charities have expressed concern that it may force people into sleeping rough as the state struggles to provide enough social housing. The homeless charity, Crisis’ Chief Executive,Lesley Morphy commented,
“[the new clause] misses the point. There was already legal provision that police and councils could, and should, have used to remove individuals in the rare instances of squatting in someone’s home. It will do nothing to address the underlying reasons why vulnerable people squat in the first place – their homelessness and a lack of affordable housing. Ultimately the Government needs to tackle why homeless people squat in the first place”
There is currently a huge shortage in social housing which is why this government has pledged to build an additional three million homes by 2020. In times of austerity however, there is wide-spread concern that this is another promise the government will fail to deliver.
Grant Shapps himself spelled out the nature of the problem we face. In 2009 he tabled an EDM which stated, “Of the 784,000 homes which currently vacant 327,000 have been empty for a period of more than six months; is further concerned that despite the presence of 1.8 million families on the social housing waiting list”.
Why then, would he be taking measures that many believe will force more onto the streets?
It is in this context then that I condemn this move to criminalise squatting. Not because I don’t think private landlords have a right to protect their properties, but because this government is clearly in no position to offer the support that those who are forced into squatting need.
There are currently 930,000 empty homes across the UK, 350,000 of which are long term empty. As a short term solution it seems to make sense for people to be able to use them.
An unemployed mother, 11 children and a council ‘eco-mansion’ – the true cost to society
My home village, Churchdown, has become the centre of a media storm. Blowing in from middle England this storm is causing lasting damage. Not just to Britain’s poorest families but to each and every one of us.
Just round the corner from the Hare and Hounds in Churchdown, one of my old haunts, lives Heather Frost. Heather is unemployed and is currently living in temporary council accommodation with her 11 children.
Cue the tabloid hysteria…
The Sun reports “A JOBLESS mum on benefits is having a £400,000 council house built for her — and her brood of ELEVEN children”
The Daily Mail goes with, “mother of 11 to get six-bedroom eco-house after moaning her TWO council homes are cramped”
While The Express analysed the events saying, “The result has instead been to create powerful incentives for irresponsible people to bring into the world very large numbers of children they cannot possibly support”
I am not here to argue the morality of having 11 children, but to comment on the media storm surrounding this story.
I hope to show how it’s inaccuracies and how it causes lasting damage not just to some of the poorest in our society but to each and every one of us.
So where to start in this quagmire of misinformation?
Virtually all media reporting of the story goes to great length to try and generalise Heather’s quite extraordinary story into an attack on our benefits system in general. The Daily Mail reports that there are over 190 families with more than 10 children and this is costing us, the taxpayer, over £11 million a year.
Of course, what the Mail describes is a fraction of the overall benefits system. These 190 households sit alongside 1.35 million other households where at least one parent claims an out of work benefit.
Ally Fogg in the Guardian points out that the £11 million that these families receive, constitutes less than one hundredth of 1% of the total benefits bill of £100bn (excluding pensions).
The cost to us…the taxpayer? Small change.
The Express tries to score come political points with it’s analysis that we now have a ‘powerful incentive’ for people to have more children.
This ‘powerful incentive’ the Express describes is referring to child benefit. This currently stands at just £20.30 a week for your first child and then an additional £13.40 a week for any further children you have.
To put this into context. Krishna News in Churchdown paid me more money per week for doing a paper round than Heather Frost gets for each of her additional children.
Additionally, two of her children are between 16 and 20 so she would only receive child benefit if they are still in full time education. Her oldest child is now 21 so is not eligible for child benefit.
Who needs facts when you write for the Express though? Little inconvenient facts like the average reproduction rate of 1.9 children for families on benefit. The almost identical reproduction rate to those not on benefits.
If there is a ‘powerful incentive’ to have children on benefits (which there isn’t) then those on benefits have yet to spot it.
Ah, but she is having a brand new £400,000 house built for her and her ‘brood’ The Sun reports. Well, keep reading and in paragraph 7 of that same story it explains how Tewksbury Council could afford this. It states, “Tewkesbury Borough Council sold a plot of land…to Severn Vale Housing association…A condition of the sale was that one of the 15 affordable properties they built on the site would be a six-bedroom home”.
The penny drops. When The Sun quotes Robert Oxley from the TaxPayers Alliance saying, “It’s scandalous that so much time and money is being spent on one custom-built house” he doesn’t actually say whether or not it is ‘tax payer’s money’ that is being spent.
These stories fuel a hatred for some of the poorest families in Britain. Regardless of how many times tabloids but the word ‘struggling’ mockingly in inverted commas, it won’t effect the fact that 1 in 5 Brits live in poverty and are struggling.
These stories though act as smokescreens. They force us to focus on how the poor are costing us rather than how poverty is costing all of us.
As we worry about the £11 million being spent on people with large families we learn to ignore the £25 billion that child poverty is costing the UK every year.
The people who suffer? Not just the 4.5 million at risk of homelessness who are currently on the housing waiting list or the 3.6 million children that are living in poverty in the UK.
In times of austerity, this media storm is costing all of us.
UPDATE: New Research out today suggest that in many UK cities over 40% of kids live in poverty.
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Filed under Gloucestershire, Homelessness, Politics, Social comment
Tagged as Churchdown, council house cost, Heather Frost, mumwith 11 children