Why empowerment is better than charity, and why squatting is (sometimes) better than asking permission.

What is squatting?

Squatting is the act of occupying empty land or property, primarily for housing but is also to create community and social spaces. It is legal under some circumstances, although successive governments have restricted the situations where this is the case [1].

The history of squatting

Squatting has a long history in England. From the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381 and the radical occupations of the Diggers in the 17th Century, to the decision of ex-soldiers to squat after both World Wars when the promised “homes fit for heroes” never materialised, squatting has always been both a political act and practical strategy for meeting one’s needs [1].

600,000 empty homes in England

As human beings, we all have a right to have our basic needs to housing, food and shelter met. Yet, despite there being 600,000 empty homes in England in 2019 [2] and around 500,000 second homes in the UK in 2019-20 [3], the charity Shelter estimate that 280,000 people were homeless in England at the end of 2019 (which has also worsened due to the Covid 19 pandemic) [4]. If only the empty buildings were used to house vulnerable people and address the shortage of available housing, there wouldn’t be a housing crisis in the UK.

500,000 second homes in the UK in 2019-20

Community and social centres are also in shortage. Our governments and planning system prioritises profit and business over the needs of local communities.

Prioritising austerity and luxury apartments over green spaces and preserving old buildings/community spaces.

Those with money and influence have huge power to shape how the land is used, and they use this power to benefit themselves, often at the cost of needed social housing and community spaces.

280,000 people were homeless in England at the end of 2019

As such, we cannot rely on corporations and governments to meet our needs and build our communities. The charity of the powerful won’t solve systemic injustices; as individuals and communities, we have to take matters into our own hands and reclaim buildings and land for the common good. We also need to build community-led and co-created spaces that meet real needs [6].

  1. The Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS). (2014). The Squatters Handbook, 14th Edition. ISBN: 0-9507769-7-1
  2. https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn03012/
  3. https://www.monbiot.com/2021/06/28/the-home-front/
  4. https://www.homeless.org.uk/how-many-people-are-homeless
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diggers
  6. https://www.eticasgr.com/en/storie/insights/social-washing