The current government has capped housing benefit, clearing poor people out of areas which the housing market has deemed desirable.
By criminalising squatting the government has made homelessness even more dangerous than it already is. Now the first person has been sent to prison for breaking the new law.
These things need to be opposed, but that is not just because they are the wrong ‘policies’.
The TUC suggest that the problem is policies and with a different set we could have growth instead of austerity. The TUC steers away from any criticism of the system within which these policies are made – the system of property, industry and work.
“Instead of just letting the banks go back to business and bonuses as usual, we need policies that promote new and old industries.”
Firstly one might wonder why we would let the banks go back to business at all.
Secondly, whilst these individual policies are odious, the real problem is deeper. If we accept that housing should be addressed through the marketplace, then there will always be those who struggle to find housing and some who are homeless.
And building extra housing for the market won’t solve the problem for any significant period of time. Whatever surplus housing is created will be consumed as demand grows to meet supply, pushing us back into housing scarcity.
The market culture encourages us to consume as much of each commodity as our means allow. Through this overconsumption those who have the means push the commodity into scarcity for those who don’t, through second homes and speculation keeping properties empty.
The people who benefit from this are those who own the most property, the value of which remains inflated. The rest of us are stuck in a cycle of constantly trying to find the means to pay for our housing – a commodity that we have no option but to consume in one form or another.
For those of us without property the way we get these means is to sell our labour. Again this is mediated through a market – the job market. Here we find ourself in competition with each other as to who will accept the lowest working conditions and the least pay.
In this context what good will more industry do, new or old?
More industry means more markets – more resources that are constantly in a state of scarcity.
More markets means more work, as we struggle to earn the means to afford these commodities which are constantly just on the edge of reach.
All this might be great for the unions, which exist from the payments which workers pay to keep them ‘protected’ in the workplace.
Instead of more industry, we need to get together to create a world were the resources we need are not distributed by markets, according to the ability to pay, but instead are made as freely available as possible for all. At the same time we need to reduce as much as possible the amount of work that is needed to keep this world functioning and then distribute fairly the labour that needs to be done.
We do not need to build this world from scratch. We already have a world with many of the things in it that we need, and these resources are rightfully ours as it was our labour collectively which made it. The new world can be built in the shell of the old if we are willing to stand up and take what is ours.
In some ways squatting has offered us a vision of what this might look like. This is although at times squatting can feel like an extension of the market logic when we find ourselves competing for limited space and are treated very differently by the authorities depending on our social class.
The central truths of the squatting movement are still strong though. There is a potential abundance of housing if we are willing to go out and take it. Small groups of desperate people, nor bands of hipsters can do this alone though. We need to move collectively to seize what is rightfully ours.
For a future where we meet our housing needs through our own efforts or the solidarity of society, but never work.