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Statement from the Advisory Service for Squatters 7th September 2011
Today the Evening “Standard” continued its misinformation about squatters, and its racist abuse of Roma and Romanians with a front page full of “gangs” and “invasions” and other rhetoric. The reason for this was that some squatters had moved out voluntarily from a property which the “Standard” had complained about them occupying. The property was one which had recently been bought by a couple about to have a baby.
The sympathy of the “Standard” for this mother to be, who clearly has a home already, was balanced by the gloating attitude towards the “kicking out” (by means not specified) of a “gang” of “Romanian” “squatters” “including a heavily pregnant woman and small children from another property.
These stories, often followed up by the Daily Mail, Telegraph and others of their ilk normally contain distortions, but proving this takes time and resources. Corrections are rarely printed. Often they confuse tenants who are no longer wanted with squatters.
For example there was the woman whose house was squatted when she was at the proms. Again “Romanian” “gypsy” “gangs” were involved and had “stolen” many belongings. When the police were asked why they had not followed the law allowing those squatting a person’s actual home to be removed, or on the supposed “thefts”, the police stated that the woman had not been living in the property for a considerable amount of time.
The descriptions of the damage done were further contradicted by the photographs printed in the “Standard”, Mail and Telegraph.
These papers refer to “plagues” and invasions” and pretend that the few cases of squatting they report on are all that exist. The fact that thousands of people are squatting in London, let alone the rest of England or Wales, and that this has been happening for centuries is whitewashed out. The vast majority of squatting takes place in property owned by institutions and left empty, and in poor condition, for long periods of time.
This rhetoric of “invasion” etc. seeks to dehumanise people and communities, often already vulnerable, seeking to house themselves in different ways. Today’s “Standard” article uses the fact that the squatters moving out voluntarily were trying to avoid intrusive photographers by covering their faces to call them a “masked group”. It was the “Standard” and ITV paparazzi who today were invading.
It is unacceptable for the media to denigrate and wholly misrepresent a marginalised and diverse community of vulnerably housed people. Such misleading articles contribute to a larger media campaign which results in vilification of all vulnerably housed people, whose communities are largely underrepresented, and are perceptibly dehumanised as a result.
Meanwhile, while attacking the decision of Judge Henderson to force Camden Council to produce a list of empty properties under the Freedom of Information Act, the Daily Mail in fact confirmed the assertion by ASS that this would help put pressure on the government, by quoting Communities Minister Bob Neil saying that he would step up use of ’empty dwelling management orders’. “He was in favour of their abolition earlier this year”, stated the Empty Homes Agency.
The FOI request was not made by ASS but is supported as a matter of public interest. As stated in the Squatters Handbook (p14) “.. lists are often of limited use …. as they are often incomplete and out of date”. The list that Camden have been ordered to produce would be very limited.
The media coverage has resulted in a spate of illiterate email abuse (nothing compared to the vigilante style abuse encouraged by the media) as well as an increase in numbers of desperate homeless people calling for advice, and sympathetic neighbours reporting empty properties they think should be squatted.