Squall 4, April/May 1993, pg. 13.
If the Department of Environment is the Government department responsible for housing and homelessness, why is the Home Office dealing with the proposed squatting legislation?
The answer of course is that, in the eyes of the Government, the issue of squatting is one of criminality (a Home Office issue) and not one of homelessness (a DOE issue).
Kenneth Baker, the Home Secretary who presented the squatting law proposal in October ‘91, said that he would tackle rising crime figures by “getting tough on armed robbers, tough on rapists and tough on squatters”. Although Kenneth Baker has since been relegated to the backbenches, his misconceptions have not.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) which bills itself as ‘Britain’s business voice’ issued a press release in June 1992 stating: “The CBI believes there is in principle no distinction between a shop lifter or a person who snatches a handbag in the street and a person who squats in an empty property.”
Despite these implied associations with criminality, a recent letter to the squatters’ campaign group SQUASH from Michael Jack (Minister of State at the Home Office) admitted that there has been no “accurate assessment of squatters’ numbers, average age, their criminal behaviour or of the type of properties occupied”. It appears to be an admission that there is no evidence for the assertions made about squatters in both the original consultation paper (which made liberal use of the word “thieves”) and in statements made since. Despite all this however, the Home Office continue to be responsible for squatting legislation. Peter Lilley, Secretary of State at the Department of Social Security even referred to the squatting issue as "a housing matter" in a recent letter to SQUASH.
“We are campaigning for the issue to be taken over by the Department of the Environment so that it can be recognised for what it really is; a homelessness issue,” said Jim Patton of SQUASH. “Squatting is a very insecure way of living,” added SQUASH treasurer Patrick, “I don’t know any squatter who would not rather have a secure home”.
Getting this message across, when the weight of public misconception is so controlled with manipuspeak and media polish, has proved one of the major barriers to a better understanding of the issue. As Austin Mitchell (Labour MP, Grimsby) said to a SQUALL writer recently: “Information is your weapon, image is your a enemy.”