Speaking from my own experience in the 1970s, there is nothing wrong with squatting if you’re homeless and you look after the building – let’s occupy all those buy-to-leave homes going to waste
For those of you who think that we dreaded baby boomers are to blame for all the suffering of the young, it may please you to know that many of us are also having a tough time. More than three million of our adult children are living with us, have never left, or are coming back, and we are all stuck together in one dwelling, like it or not, possibly for ever. Or we’ve bankrupted ourselves, or downsized into a bedsit, if we had anything to downsize from, to help those children buy or rent a home, because the housing market has zoomed up into la-la land.
Meanwhile, there are an estimated 610,000 empty homes in England, more than 200,000 of which are thought to have been empty for more than six months, and homeless people are trying to sleep on spikes. Mad or mad?
Luckily I have a solution. Bring back squatting. Repeal that silly 2012 law criminalising it in residential properties. Occupy all those buy-to-leave homes, and the squillion empty premises being hogged and sat on by supermarket chains so that no one else can use them. But bring it back with reservations, of course. Because there is squatting and there is squatting. There are the people who need a home and get on with it unobtrusively, repairing and looking after neglected buildings and saving them from ruin – think Bonnington Square in Vauxhall, London. Then there are the show-offs, who make a tremendous fuss, noise and mess, hang flags out of windows, call themselves “artists” and annoy their neighbours. We could do without them, giving the real squatters a bad name.
Squatting, sometimes almost official, seems to have peaked in the 1970s and 80s. Baby boomers again. It wasn’t all fun. Fielding’s makeshift library fell on his head while he was sleeping. Luckily it was all paperbacks; I ran away from a rather bleak squat with red lightbulbs and purple walls. Co-operatives were tricky to run, and squabbles could erupt, but hundreds of mouldering, dilapidated buildings were turned into agreeable homes. There’s nothing wrong with alternative lifestyles. Unless they’re the years-in-a-B&B or sleeping rough alternatives, which don’t need to exist at all.
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