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From The Socialist newspaper, 3 October 2012

Squatting conviction paves way for rise in homelessness

Paul Kershaw
Housing: homeless person, photo Paul Mattsson

Housing: homeless person, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

A 21 year old homeless man who had moved to London from Plymouth looking for work has become the first person to be jailed under new legislation that makes 'squatting a residential building' a criminal offence.

Ironically the jailed man, Alex Haigh, had previously worked as an apprentice bricklayer.

The homeless charity, Crisis, estimates that 40% of homeless people have squatted at some time and believe that the new law will result in a further increase in rough sleeping.

Already, before the new law, rough sleeping in London has risen by a massive 43% in 2011/2012 compared to the previous 12 months - part of a desperate housing crisis that reflects the lack of affordable housing, increased unemployment and job insecurity.

This is being worsened by vicious changes to benefits which hit low-paid workers as well as the unemployed and sick.

Housing crisis

Recently published research undertaken last autumn (by Ipsos Mori), before the worst of the changes, showed that a third of benefit claimants in London private rented accommodation had tried to negotiate a lower rent but only 31% of them succeeded.

They also reported that nearly four in ten landlords in Brent, Westminster and Hackney had already "taken some action (eviction, termination or non-renewal of a tenancy) because of the new measures".

This is evidence of social cleansing in high rent areas of London showing the importance of Youth Fight for Jobs' 'Forced out' campaign.

Rather than tackle the roots of the housing crisis, the lowest peacetime rate of house building since World War One for instance, the Con-Dems criminalise the homeless.

Hugh Haigh, Alex's father, was upset at the severity of the sentence given to his son. "They have made an example of him.

To put him in that prison environment, I don't understand it. If he broke the law, he should be dealt with, but it is like putting someone who has not paid their taxes into Dartmoor prison." Certainly no bankers, at the root of this crisis, have been jailed.

Ill-informed debate

The press has given prominence to cases where a homeowner who 'goes on holiday, and returns to find his home squatted.' People will be sympathetic in such cases but they are extremely rare.

When the legislation was being rammed through parliament by Grant Shapps, now Conservative Party chairman, 160 leading legal figures wrote an open letter saying the new law change was not needed and accused ministers of fostering 'ill-informed debate' misrepresenting the powers already available.

There are 930,000 empty homes according to the Empty Homes Agency. If these were let at affordable rents and if the banks were nationalised and directed to support a massive programme of house building, bricklayers like Alex Haigh would have work and the need to squat would disappear.

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In The Socialist 3 October 2012:

Education news & analysis

Tory education policy: 'This is just about making cuts isn't it?'

Building the fightback in the universities

Suspended student union president continues fight for reinstatement

NUT activists prepare for action

Barnfield College, Luton: Kick private profit out of education

Partial victory for international students at London Metropolitan

No to slave labour in universities

International socialist news and analysis

Europe: Class struggle returns with a bang

South Africa: Solidarity with miners

Algerian war of independence 1954-1962

Socialist Party NHS campaigning

Action against Profit From Illness!

South West NHS workers want action against 'pay cartel'

Save Greater Manchester mental healthcare

Cut the Con-Dems - not our NHS!

Socialist Party workplace news

Bin workers calling indefinite strike brought results

Day of Action to save HMRC nurseries

Crossrail flashmob blocks London's Oxford Street

Arts and culture workers need to fight back

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

The fight of all our lives - For a 24-hour general strike

Councillors must resist all Tory cuts

Thousands march for an independent Scotland

March for Jobs in Scotland

Rape is No Joke campaign discussed

Socialist Party news and analysis

Scotland: Lamont throws Labour Party into crisis

Sickened by Labour conference? Build the anti-cuts alternative!

Council tax benefit - new and not improved

Squatting conviction paves way for rise in homelessness

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