Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Squatters - Painters

Calling all squatters. How would you like to be paid for what you do already and even receive a little sum for looking for empty properties. Believe it or not, someone is suggesting just that.

Squall 5, Oct/Nov 1993, pg. 7.

Whilst the Government limber up for its public relations assault on squatters in the autumn, a surprising scheme has been proposed by a right wing think tank: The Adam Smith Institute.

Published in July 1993, the institute’s policy document titled “Into the Voids”, proposes a scheme that “would favour the vigilant and might induce people to scout for an empty property”!

The ‘paint to rent’ scheme, as they call it, will: “enable potential tenants to serve a statutory notice on a local authority such that, unless an empty council property is either occupied or works to repair are commenced within a short period, then the server of the notice should be presumed to be the tenant.”

According to the proposal, if a council property is empty, a homeless person may notify the council of their interest in living there. If the council do not do anything with the place within the following 14 days, the homeless person is then entitled to move in, repair the property and live there.

Of course there is no mention of the word ‘squatting’ anywhere in the booklet but its theme of allowing homeless people to use their initiative in order to repair and occupy empty property is of course one and the same. This time however, the institute not only propose that these people should be invited to do so but also that financial encouragement should be provided!

The proposals include the payment of special housing benefit to the ‘painters’, to help with repair costs and even a small payment to compensate for the time spent looking for a place.

Every squatter who reads the booklet will be saying: “Yeh great, this is exactly what I’ve been doing to house myself for years, any chance of backdating the compensation?"

It all sounds quite incredibly reasonable and unbelievable and where’s the catch? Well, there are two things to remember about the Adam Smith Institute. Firstly, they are a think tank and their proposals are not guaranteed to be taken up by the Government. Secondly, the Adam Smith Institute is well known for proposing schemes designed to cripple the power of local authorities.

Sixteen per cent of Government-owned housing, eg MOD homes, are empty and yet the institute’s proposals do not mention these. The only mention of the 717,000 private sector empties is in a suggestion that landlords be given yet more tax incentives to encourage them to rent out their properties, still at full blown market rents. ‘Into the Voids’ only deals with local authority empties and, whilst a great many squats are to be found in this sector, it is difficult to believe that the Adam Smith Institute’s proposals are not specifically designed to get at local authorities and further drain them of both finances and public housing stock. It is worth remembering that the Adam Smith Institute was involved in the policy process that led to the Poll Tax. Indeed, the quote the report chooses to start off with is further indicative of a hidden agenda. It reads: “When the crown lands had become private property, they would, in the course of a few years, become well-improved” and was lifted from a Tory bible called The Wealth of Nations written by Adam Smith himself.

Still, there is nothing contained within the report that squatters’ organisations wouldn’t herald as a good idea, primarily because they have been putting the good idea into action for years, but also because it’s unusual to have a right wing political organisation admit that squatting is a good idea. If only it was given official permission.

The foreword is written by a cautious Sir George Young, Minister for Housing and the booklet itself was written by Hartley Booth, MP for Thatcher’s old constituency of Finchley and, at present, Personal Private Secretary in the Home Office, ironically the very department plotting to strengthen the law against squatting.

“Into the Voids” by Hartley Booth
Pub. Adam Smith Institute,
23, Great Smith Street,
London SW1P 3BL.