Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Squatting - Weatherley and Caulfield blaming the victim...as usual

This week the scale of the housing benefit cuts in Brighton and Hove from next month was laid bare for all to see. 

The maximum benefit for a room in shared accommodation is being cut by over £5pw, the 1 bedroom rate by nearly £7pw, the 2-bedroom rate by £17pw and the 3-bedroom rate by £25pw.

Already, landlords are refusing to let to single persons aged 25 to 35, in anticipation of massive cuts to housing benefit for that group planned for April NEXT year.

We also know that over the last year the number of people kicked out of private rented accommodation by landlords rose by 34%.

You would have thought that, with this looming crisis in housing, our political representatives would be urgently applying pressure to the government to change course.

But no.

Hove MP Mike Weatherley, cheered on by City Council housing chair Maria Caulfield, thinks it a more urgent priority to........criminalise squatting!

He proclaims that his "campaign" is close to "victory", now that he apparently has the ear of Kenneth Clarke.

Squatting has a long and noble tradition in Brighton and Hove, as part of the battle for the rights of tenants against the exploitative slum landlords who used to hold such a monopoly on local housing.  No doubt if anyone mentioned the name "Harry Cowley" to Weatherley and Caulfield, it would sail right over their heads!

No doubt, some modern squatters don't help the cause by their behaviour and I don't doubt that some squatters are not in genuine housing need, but the coming crisis will force increasing numbers of people to seek drastic solutions to their problems.

I wonder if Weatherley has ever spent any time questioning the fact that large numbers of buildings stand empty for years.  In Hastings the Council has just taken the step of compulsory purchase orders on six empty, rotting properties so that they can be brought back into use as homes.  Is Weatherley putting pressure on Brighton and Hove Council to do the same?

Or maybe he knows that by exploiting popular myths and prejudices around squatters he can conveniently distract attention from the growing housing crisis.

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