Category Archives: Posted

Vancouver, Canada, formally declares city is on unceded Native American tribal territory

Vancouver city council has unanimously voted to acknowledge that the city is on unceded Aboriginal territory.

Mayor Gregor Robertson declared a ‘Year of Reconciliation’ last summer, in the hopes of building new relationships between Aboriginals and Vancouverites.

“Underlying all other truths spoken during the Year of Reconciliation is the truth that the modern city of Vancouver was founded on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and that these territories were never ceded through treaty, war or surrender,” reads part of the motion from the city.

The city says it will now work with representatives from the Aboriginal community to determine “appropriate protocols” for conducting city business.


First Nations’ traditional territories in the Greater Vancouver area
Katzie; Musqueam; Squamish; Tsawwassen; Tsleil-Waututh

Walkers urged to help save historic footpaths before 2026 deadline

The Ramblers have launched the Don’t Lose Your Way online mapping site to find and map thousands of miles of lost historic paths across England and Wales. An estimated 10,000 miles of historic paths are thought to be missing from maps & if not claimed before a 2026 government-deadline, they’ll be lost from maps forever. The new mapping tool divides the maps of England and Wales into 154,000 one-kilometre squares, which users can select to compare historic and current maps of the area side-by-side. Simply select a square, do a quick ‘spot the difference’, mark on any missing paths and click submit. It takes just a few minutes to check a square.

The Ramblers Association are asking people to join the search to save thousands of miles of lost historic paths before a 2026 government-deadline with the launch of their new Don’t Lose Your Way online mapping site.

Walkers urged to help save historic footpaths before 2026 deadline
Lost paths must be identified by government deadline to be added to official record

by Patrick Barkham, The Guardian, 11th February 2020

Walkers are being urged to help identify 10,000 miles of historic footpaths that are missing from the map in England and Wales and could be lost for ever.

All rights of way must be identified before a government deadline of 2026, after which it will no longer be possible to add old paths to the official record.

The walking group Ramblers is calling on walkers, historians and map enthusiasts to use its new mapping site to identify missing footpaths.

The online tool divides the official map into 150,000 1km squares so users can compare historic and current maps side by side, spot any differences and submit missing paths.

Once mapped, Ramblers will recruit volunteers to make applications to restore paths to local authorities before the 2026 deadline.

Jack Cornish, the project’s manager, said: “Our paths are one of our most precious assets. They connect us to our landscapes – ensuring we can explore our towns and cities on foot and enjoy walking in the countryside – and to our history and the people who formed them over the centuries.”

If we lose our paths, a little bit of our past goes with them. This is our only opportunity to save thousands of miles of rights of way and time is running out.”

Some lost paths are still in use, while others have become overgrown, but all were omitted from the “definitive” maps of 140,000 miles of paths that councils were required to draw up in the 1950s.

Some walkers are already applying to local authorities to recognise lost paths but fear there are many more than the government’s estimate of 10,000 miles: a survey in Cornwall alone identified 3,000 paths that had fallen out of use.

Paul Howland discovered a lost path called The Markway, in Hampshire, which ends abruptly in some undergrowth. The path was temporarily blocked during the second world war and by the time it was reinstated in 1956 it was overgrown and forgotten.

Howland has calculated that in his area he would need to make two applications a week to register all the paths before 2026.

Under English common law, rights of way do not expire but the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 required all rights of way to be recorded. The Ramblers are calling on the government to extend the deadline for registering historic paths by at least five years.

Read also: Ramble on: the fight to save forgotten footpaths & Memory lanes: the ramblers trying to save 10,000 lost footpaths

Boris’ criminal trespass trap: this new law could make us strangers in our own land

[Notes – 1. this is a 18-19 century throwback see Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the 1723 Black Act etc. 3. Gypsies and travellers are protected under international law and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 3. trespass has been a crime in the USA for around fifty years – TG]

The trespass trap: this new law could make us strangers in our own land

see also: Tories fanning flames of racism (Dec 2019)

A government consultation being framed as a crackdown on travelling people is an assault on all citizens’ freedoms

George Monbiot@GeorgeMonbiot Wed 15 Jan 2020 06.00 GMT

Every government of the past 30 years has promised freedom, and every government has taken it away. The general ‘freedom’ they proclaim turns out to mean freedom for billionaires, the City of London, and the tax-avoiding, labour-exploiting, planet-poisoning chancers whose liberty is our captivity. Meanwhile, through further restrictions on housing, benefits, immigration, protest and dissent, they have snatched freedom from those who need it most.

Boris Johnson’s government intends to sustain this ignoble tradition. Its consultation document on unauthorised encampments proposes to criminalise the lives of some of Britain’s most vulnerable and persecuted groups. By enabling the police to confiscate the homes of ‘anyone whom they suspect to be trespassing on land with the purpose of residing on it’, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers will be left with nowhere to stop.

Even the police oppose this legislative cleansing: 75% of police forces and police commissioners believe that existing powers are sufficient to address any harmful behaviour by members of these groups. The government’s sweeping proposals would amount to collective punishment. This is Conservatism at its cruellest and meanest.

But when you examine the proposals more closely, you begin to realise that they don’t stop at the persecution of travelling peoples. The way the questions are framed could enable the government to go much further than the official purpose of the consultation, potentially launching one of the most severe restrictions on general freedom in the modern era.

The consultation is everything such exercises are not supposed to be. It is confusing and heavily slanted. It is pitched in such a way that, however you might answer the questions, you are forced to agree with a profoundly illiberal idea.

For example, the first question asks: ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree that knowingly entering land without the landowner’s permission should only be made a criminal offence if it is for the purpose of residing on it?

It’s a perfect trap. If you agree, you consent to the curtailment of the traditional rights and lives of Roma and Travellers. If you disagree, you consent to the criminalisation of something much wider, which, throughout English history has been a civil matter: trespass on land.

Is this the intention? To sneak in, under the cloak of a populist attack on a small minority, the criminalisation of walking on the great majority of England’s land? We have a parliament in which, in both houses, landowners are massively over-represented. We have a wider political and economic system in which ancient, landed power still carries immense weight. There is nothing some landowners would like more than to set the police on those who dare to venture into their vast estates. And there is nothing that tells us more clearly that freedom for one is captivity for another.

Even while it remains a civil matter, the offence of trespass informs us that we are strangers in our own nation, unwelcome on the great majority of its acres. This is why Scotland introduced its comprehensive right to roam, enabling people to venture on to almost all uncultivated land except gardens, sports grounds and the land immediately surrounding houses, schools and other buildings. Despite dire predictions, it works well, with scarcely any conflict. The Scottish government, and the campaigners who pressed for this reform, see access as an essential component of citizenship. When you are treated as a trespasser across most of your nation, the message you receive is that you don’t belong.

To criminalise trespass would be to make strangers of us all. The police become internal border guards, defending the fabric of the nation from us, the alien horde. In most parts of the country, this will leave us fenced into tiny areas. The right to roam in England extends to just 10% of the nation, generally far from where most people live. Some counties have only pocket handkerchiefs of land where we may freely venture.

To be adventurous in many parts of Britain, to explore more than a few glorified dog toilets, is to trespass. To stick to the footpaths and the pockets of access land is, for many of us, to feel unbearably trapped. Already we must tiptoe across our nation, trying to remain unseen. Does the government now seek to criminalise us? As the same confusing framing applies to several of the questions in the consultation, it seems unlikely to be accidental. The Conservative manifesto stated, without qualification, ‘we will make intentional trespass a criminal offence’.

The harder you look, the more disguised powers appear to be lodged in this consultation. Even if new trespass laws are aimed only at those residing on land, they will affect not only Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, but also rough sleepers. David Cameron’s government criminalised squatting in empty homes. This too was previously a civil matter. Thousands of homeless people found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Some have been imprisoned for using property abandoned by its owners. Johnson’s government would do the same to people living in tents or bivvy bags. There will be nowhere to turn.

Any new laws are also likely to be used against protesters. We’ve seen how previous legislation – such as the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act, the 2000 Terrorism Act and the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act – has been immediately deployed against peaceful protest, in some cases after the government promised that it would not be used for this purpose.

In view of the statements this week by the home secretary, Priti Patel, attempting to justify Extinction Rebellion’s temporary inclusion on a list of extremist ideologies, we cannot trust her to protect our rights to dissent. People seeking to reside on land for the purposes of protest, as anti-fracking and anti-roads campaigners have done to great effect, are likely to be criminalised from the outset.

But in casting the illiberal net so wide, the government might accidentally have created a coalition. Rather than allowing Roma, Travellers and homeless people to be picked off, all those of us who fear the criminalisation of trespass should join forces with them, protecting their rights while we defend our own. In responding to the consultation, which closes on 4 March, we should refuse to be trapped in the government’s framing. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with its proposals, we should state under every confusing question that we reject all attempts to criminalise trespass.

History shows that attacks on general freedoms often begin with an attack on the freedom of a minority. It teaches us that we should never allow a government to divide and rule. An attack on one is an attack on all.

Universal Credit targets poorer non-Tory voters: work no longer route out of poverty

Insecure Britain – we are two and a half pay cheques away from homelessness on average

A new survey finds three quarters of Brits worry that if their financial situation changed in just one way, they might end up losing their home, or evicted.

by Ben Gelblum – January 8, 2020

see also: Half of households facing homelessness in Knowsley have jobs

Insecure Britain – we are two and a half pay cheques away from homelessness on average

The average Brit believes they could only pay their rent or mortgage for two-and-a-half months if they lost their job, according to a survey.

It suggests that many adults are just a couple of pay cheques away from facing homelessness, with three in four worrying that they could end up losing their home if their financial situation changed.

The survey also found that nearly half (45%) of those polled agree that anyone could become homeless and it just takes a run of bad luck for it to happen.

More than a third say they have had to leave their home because they couldn’t afford to live there.

The most common reasons for someone losing their home were because they lost their job and could not afford their housing costs (18%) and a relationship breakdown forcing someone to move (18%).

Almost half say they know at least one person who has lost their home., the social enterprise which commissioned the poll, said the “sad reality” is that many people find themselves on the streets for reasons outside of their control.

The poll, which questioned 1,500 British adults, calculated that the average time that someone could pay their rent or mortgage if they lost their job was 2.5 months.

Three quarters of Brits said they worry that if their financial situation changed in just one way, they might end up losing their home, or evicted.

Of these, 31% said they worry about this all the time, and 45 per cent worry about it sometimes.

Almost one in five said that if they did lose their home because they couldn’t afford housing costs they would have nothing to fall back on.

Almost a third said they have savings to fall back on, while half could turn to family and 16% to their friends.

Alex Stephany, founder and chief executive of, said: “Whether it’s mental health related, a relationship breakdown, or losing one’s job, the sad reality is that many people become homeless for reasons outside their control.

“But often, the difference between people tipping into homelessness or not comes down to the strength of their support networks.

“The people we support at Beam come from a variety of backgrounds but they usually lack this ‘scaffolding’ in their lives.

“At Beam, we’ve seen that a combination of upskilling homeless people and providing them with an online support community is vital.” The survey questioned just over 1,500 British adults in December.

Tories ‘fanned flames of racism’ against Gypsy/Travellers in 2019 election campaign

Tories accused of ‘fanning flames of racism’ against Gypsy/Travellers in UK election campaign

rarely mentioned is the fact that demonising gypsies and travellers is always deployed by the Tories because it does win votes – votes from those corralled into debt-laden home ownership who resent others – such as travellers – who aren’t – yes – the politics of envy – pushing a bankster mortgage rentier landlord agenda – but this was recognised after WWII in the UDHR as totally unacceptable bullying of an ethnic minority and must be hammered – called out under human rights law and everywhere else….[TG]

‘They’re demonising us to win cheap votes’ say rights activists, as openDemocracy research reveals ‘sickening’ rhetoric deployed by Conservatives across the country.

OpenDemocracy’s investigation into anti-Traveller propaganda during the election has revealed that:

  • Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has listed cracking down on ‘illegal traveller incursions’ as a key election priority.
  • Tory candidates have promoted films on Facebook which single out and criticise the Traveller community, including one with Home Secretary Priti Patel suggesting communities live ‘in fear’ of Travellers.
  • Tory candidates have put opposition to Gypsy and Traveller camps at the centre of their campaigns ‘ including support for new laws which Traveller groups say are designed to criminalise them.
  • One Tory candidate, in Crewe and Nantwich, led a demonstration against the local Gypsy/Traveller community.
  • Another Tory candidate in South West Bedfordshire has backed proposals which, according to a community spokesperson, amount to ‘forced assimilation’.

Adam Ramsay 10 December 2019

Home Secretary Priti Patel has promised to “crack down” on traveller communities.

The Conservatives have been accused of ‘fanning the flames of racism’ against Gypsies, Roma and Travellers ahead of the UK general election on Thursday.

The complaints come as openDemocracy research reveals that Tory candidates across the country have made inflammatory and discriminatory statements about Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in their campaign material.

Labour and the SNP have described openDemocracy’s findings as ‘disgusting’ and the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has said it is ‘sickening to see them stir up prejudice against vulnerable, disadvantaged Travellers.’

Accusing the Conservative party of trying to ‘criminalise Gypsies to hide their own failures,’ Joe Jones, chair of the Gypsy Council said: ‘They are using us the same as they do the immigrants and everyone else: as cannon fodder for political favour.’

Meanwhile the Scottish Traveller advocate Davie Donaldson said: ‘This is the worst election I have ever seen in terms of rhetoric towards Gypsy/Traveller people. The division coming out is causing real real worry.’

He added: ‘It’s a poison which infects the Conservative party.’

Senior Tory appointees not standing for election, including the government’s anti-semitism tsar, have also been accused of singling out Travellers as an ethnic group.

‘Legislative cleansing

openDemocracy’s findings come after a series of controversies about the Conservatives’ treatment of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. They also come in the wake of recent attacks against Travellers.

Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a consultation on creating a new offence of ‘trespassing while setting up an unauthorised encampment’ – an initiative which has been described as ‘legislative cleansing‘ by the journalist George Monbiot.

The legislation will, among other things, give police powers to confiscate Traveller property, and critics say it is specifically designed to criminalise communities that have in many cases used the land for longer than settled communities.

Asked by openDemocracy to respond to allegations that the proposed new law is aimed at ‘criminalising an ethnic group,’ Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘The public want their communities protected and for the police to crack down on trespassers.’

‘Our proposals aim to ensure that [unauthorised] encampments can be challenged and removed as quickly as possible.’

A spokesperson for Ms Patel also highlighted the Conservative manifesto, which states: ‘We will tackle unauthorised traveller camps. We will give the police new powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorised encampments, in order to protect our communities. We will make intentional trespass a criminal offence.’

Responding to the Home Office consultation, the human rights group Friends, Families, and Travellers, said: ‘The proposals would have a devastating impact on Gypsy and Traveller communities, who have been part of British life since before the 16th century, yet face some of the greatest inequalities of any group in England and Wales.’

They added that the Priti Patel’s assertions about unlawful behaviour in unauthorised encampments ‘focus on the behaviour of a minority, yet tar all Gypsies and Travellers with the same brush. This is dangerous and discriminatory rhetoric.’

‘It is no coincidence that this announcement comes in the wake of a general election. If there was a real appetite to address the issue of unauthorised encampments, the government would have invested in site provision. Yet, for over a decade we have seen little to no progress in this area. Criminalising families who have no place to go is inhumane and wrong.’

Leading anti-Traveller protests in key marginals

In the Labour-Tory marginal seat of Crewe and Nantwich, the Conservative candidate Dr Keiran Mullan has spent hundreds of pounds promoting two separate videos on Facebook in which he criticises the local Gypsy and Traveller community for stopping on a park in Nantwich.

Dr Mullan has also been described by a local as ‘spearheading’ a campaign against Travellers camping on the park, including leading a protest in September which was attended by 250 people, according to the local paper.

In the videos, Mullan describes a Traveller encampment on the park as ‘illegal’, despite the fact that trespass isn’t a crime.

The human rights group Friends, Families and Travellers has told openDemocracy that the claim that Traveller encampments are illegal has long been part of a strategy to vilify Gypsy and Traveller groups.

Speaking to openDemocracy, Dr Mullan said: ‘Residents approached me to help them after seeing a park that is a fantastic local amenity being used repeatedly as camp site. It is not [a] camp site. I couldn’t care less who is using it as a camp site. No one should be. So I helped them. Sorry if people are unhappy with that, but that’s not something I can control.’

‘Communities should not be living in fear’

Marco Longhi, the Conservative candidate in the key marginal seat of Dudley North, promoted a video on Facebook featuring Home Secretary Priti Patel and Dudley South candidate Mike Wood.

In the video, Patel says that Traveller camps cause ‘a great deal of chaos and harm across our communities,’ adding ‘communities should not be living in fear’ and that they are ‘standing up for the law abiding majority’.

There is no evidence to suggest that crime rates go up when Travellers move into an area.

Speaking to openDemocracy, Mike Wood said: ‘We are also pushing hard for an authorised transit site (on top of the semi-permanent traveller camp that we have had in Dudley South for many years),’ and emphasised that his objection was to unauthorised encampments.

Meanwhile Conservative candidate in Wolverhampton South West Stuart Anderson has opposed planning permission for a Traveller site in his seat, including appearing as Father Christmas at a fundraiser for a group leading objection to the site. Anderson has not replied to our request for comment.

And in another marginal seat, Conservative Douglas Ross, who is re-standing to be MP for Moray in the North East of Scotland, was forced to apologise for saying in 2017 that anti-Gypsy policies would be ‘his number one priority‘ if he were prime minister for a day.

‘It’s like a disease’

In May this year, Mole Valley MP Sir Paul Beresford opened an Adjournment Debate in parliament by saying: “We’re now in what we call the summer Traveller season, it’s like a disease.”

Sir Paul said his part of Surrey was “attractive to Travellers from afar, and many of those come with a distinct Irish accent”.

Writing about the incident, the local media outlet Surrey Live criticised the MP: ‘When we start using terms like ‘disease’ to describe an entire ethnic group because of the actions of some members of that community, we feed into the sort of intolerance that can turn into something more sinister.’

Mr Beresford did not respond to our request for comment.

Michael Gove: Cracking down on crime –  and Travellers

Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has singled out Travellers in a bullet point about crime on his campaign materials, but hasn’t referred to any other ethnic group. In his leaflet, Gove pledges ‘cracking down on crime, dealing with anti-social behaviour, theft, and burglary, and illegal traveller incursions’:

Similarly, Dr James Davies, Conservative candidate for the Vale of Clwyd constituency, has pledged to ‘Oppose controversial Gypsy and Traveller sites’ on a leaflet in his constituency.

Neither Mr Gove nor Mr Davies has responded to our request for comment.

‘Forced assimilation’

At least three other Conservative candidates have made criticism of Traveller communities a central feature of their campaigns.

The Conservative candidate in Bristol North West ran a story on his website with the headline ‘Conservatives push new approach to tackling Travellers‘. Meanwhile Conservative candidates Andrew Selous in South West Bedfordshire and Alex Burghart in Brentwood and Ongar have been vocal in their support for legal reforms which opponents say will criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities.

Andrew Selous also last year proposed a bill which Traveller groups say would have amounted to ‘forced assimilation’ of the Traveller community.

In the bill, Selous pushed for caravan sites to be converted to ‘settled accommodation,’ for unauthorised encampments to become a criminal offence and for local authorities to be released from the obligation to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers.

Asked about his support for Priti Patel’s proposed new law, Burghart said: ‘I am campaigning to reduce unauthorised developments encampments regardless of who is responsible for them.’ Andrew Selous has not responded to our request for comment.

‘Anti-Semitism tsar’ John Mann ‘legendary for his anti-Gypsyism’

Other senior government appointees who are not standing for election this week have also come under criticism about this issue.

In September, the government appointed the former Labour MP John Mann, as a anti-semitism tsar, appointing him as a cross bench peer. He retains his Labour party membership.

Mann has been criticised for an ‘anti-social behaviour handbook he produced in 2007 which discussed problems including ‘Travellers’ and highlighted in bold and red: ‘The Police have powers to remove any gypsies or Travellers’. In correspondence seen by openDemocracy, the police officer involved referred to the matter as a potential ‘hate incident’.

On at least two occasions Mann has opposed a Traveller site in his constituency, encouraging residents to ‘protest profusely’. In 2009, Mann complained in parliament that his constituency would have more Traveller sites than neighbouring areas. Lord Mann said to openDemocracy ‘there were many more suitable sites in Bassetlaw and nearby…. I identified a range of possible alternative sites to the counci’.

Richard Bennett, who co-runs the organisation Gypsy Life and who lives in Mann’s former constituency, Bassetlaw, told openDemocracy that Mann is ‘legendary for anti-Gypsyism.’

He added: ‘The fact that the Tory Party has appointed someone with such a long track record of anti-Gypsyism as their anti-Semitism tsar just shows their disgusting attitude towards racism.’

Lord Mann said he’d received a ‘huge vote’ from the Gypsy/Traveller community when he was an MP and that ‘no complaints were made’ about how he’d represented them, adding ‘I also represented constituents on allegations of anti Gypsy/Traveller behaviour.’ Mann said he opposed the sites because they were in unsuitable locations, that the Bennetts are political opponents of his and that he’d represented the interests of Travellers on many occasions.

He also said the controversial booklet had been endorsed by Nottinghamshire police, and by Gordon Brown when he was prime minister in 2009, and that he regretted the highlighted portion of the pamphlet. He added that the police dismissed the complaint made against him in 2017.

Eric Pickles, UK envoy for post-holocaust affairs. | Image, Charles Ashburner, Wikimedia Commons.

Other high-profile government appointees have also come under criticism for their stance against Gypsy and Traveller communities. In September 2015, Eric Pickles was appointed UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues by David Cameron’s government. (Five hundred thousand Gypsies were murdered in the Holocaust.)

In January of the same year, Pickles, in his role as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, had been found in the High Court to have breached the human rights of Gypsies and Travellers by discriminating against them in the planning process, specifically calling Gypsy and Traveller planning applications in from planning departments where other ethnic groups didn’t face the same treatment.

Lord Pickles has not responded to openDemocracy’s request for comment.

Fire in Somerset

Footage of one of the fires. | Image: Kimberley Jade Keen

Last month three caravans on Traveller sites in Glastonbury, Somerset caught fire within the space of a week. Speaking to Somerset Live, a spokesperson for the Glastonbury community council said that ‘if reports of deliberate sabotage are correct’, then those responsible were ‘risking people’s lives’.

In 2017, the local MP, James Heappey had asked Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions to take action against an ‘endless stream of illegal (sic) Traveller encampments’.

Contacted by openDemocracy, Mr Heappey’s office said he wouldn’t comment on the incident as there is an ongoing criminal investigation, but went on to repeat unsubstantiated local rumours about the victims of the crime, saying ‘the word locally’ is that the people who lived in the caravans were engaged in ‘criminal’ and ‘drug related activity’.

The victims of the fires could not be contacted to respond to these unsubstantiated rumours. Avon and Somerset Police said that they had no evidence to suggest that the fires were the result of anti-Traveller hate.

Dignity and respect

Commenting on openDemocracy’s research, Kate Green, the Labour candidate in Stetford and Urmstone and a campaigner for Gypsy and Traveller rights, said:

‘I’m disgusted at these attitudes to Travellers. Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are recognised as ethnic groups under the Equality Act 2010, meaning they’re legally protected against race discrimination.’

‘Proposals to criminalise trespass are unfair, are opposed by the police, and will prove counterproductive when the real problem is a shortage of legal stopping places made worse by Tory planning rules.’

Tommy Shepherd, SNP candidate in Edinburgh East, called our findings ‘disgusting but not surprising.’

‘Rather than picking on Travellers, [the Tories] ought to concentrate on trying to respect and support their lifestyle, including finding means for their enfranchisement in the democratic process.’

‘Having canvassed my local Travellers sit myself, I know for a fact that members of the community are intensely interested in politics. Maybe it’s time somebody listened to them rather than engaging in this grotesque othering.’

Allan Hogarth, head of advocacy at Amnesty International UK, said that: ‘Divisive language used by any politician has a very real impact on people’s lives all around the country.’

‘We would urge all election candidates to choose their words carefully, and to ensure they lead by example by showing respect to all communities.’

And Win Lawless of Irish Community Care, which works with Irish Travelling Communities, pleaded with Tory politicians to change their language in the final week of campaigning: ‘We ask that people, Gypsies and Travellers with real lives; families, grandparents, children, not be treated as political footballs to benefit political goals. All people from all communities will be living side by side long after the 12th December’.

Urgent: expose dark money in our politics

Dear readers across the world,

Brexit has shown how broken British democracy is, with voters still in the dark about who bankrolls the politicians and lobbyists deciding the country’s future.

Years of tireless investigation by openDemocracy have made some things painfully clear. Dark money is putting sophisticated propaganda in billions of social media feeds worldwide. The law and its enforcers are lagging far behind new techniques of digital manipulation. And only dedicated, long-term investigative journalism will show you what is really going on.

Our work gets results – triggering law change, criminal investigations and prompting global debate. But we’re a small non-profit journalism outfit – no billionaire proprietor or paywall – which is why we need ongoing support from readers to:

pay journalists fair and sustainable wages

provide our team with the tools and security they need to do their work safely

hire in the experts (forensic accountants, lawyers, and digital analysts) to help us uncover the truth

We need your support to make all this happen. Please contribute – it really does make a difference.

Mary Fitzgerald, Editor-in-Chief

Home Office Consultation: Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments

The modern equivalent of John Major’s power grab for the Country Landowners’ Association, attacking gypsies, travellers and ravers in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act.

Open consultation

Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments


Consultation on measures to criminalise trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales.

This consultation closes in March 2020

Consultation description

We would like to consult on measures to criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales.

We would also like to consult on what an alternative approach to this could be:

  • amending section 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to permit the police to direct trespassers to suitable authorised sites located in neighbouring local authority areas
  • amending sections 61 and 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to increase the period of time in which trespassers directed from land would be unable to return from 3 months to 12 months
  • amending section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to lower the number of vehicles needing to be involved in an unauthorised encampment before police powers can be exercised from six to two or more vehicles
  • amending section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to enable the police to remove trespassers from land that forms part of the highway


Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments: consultation document 281KB, 27 pages

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Ways to respond


Email to:

Write to:

Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments consultation,
Police Powers Unit,
6th Floor NW, Fry Building,
Home Office,
2 Marsham Street,

‘I swapped £580 a month rent for a converted horse-box – the housing crisis forced us to look for alternative options’

A growing number are being priced out of private renting, with some living as van dwellers in converted vehicles

Wednesday, 25th September 2019,

Beccy, a 36 year-old from Bristol, works part time as a sustainable travel officer. She is really passionate about her work but chooses not to do it full-time so she can also dedicate time to climate crisis action group Extinction Rebellion.

All of this, she says, is possible because for the last three years she has reduced her cost of living. Previously a private renter paying £580 a month, she now lives in a converted 1990 horsebox lorry. She paid £2,500 for it and estimates spending a total of £7,000 converting it.

She says it costs her £255 a month to run including rent for her park-up, water, insurance, gas, vehicle tax, wifi, fuel and trips to the laundrette as she doesn’t have a washing machine on board. “In terms of what I’m saving on rent, it pays for itself,” she tells i.

These monthly savings enable Beccy to do more of what she loves, which also includes volunteering with the Land Justice Network – a campaign group that argues for fairer distribution of land in Britain.

What’s more, it feels like home. “My ex-boyfriend and I spent about six months converting the lorry. It’s like a log cabin now, we used lots of reclaimed wood. It feels very homely. We were keen to avoid the plastic fantastic feeling of so many motorhomes.”

The inside of Beccy’s converted horse box

The catalyst for Beccy’s lifestyle change was the constant, claustrophobic awareness of rising house prices in Bristol.

“Back in 2014, my ex-boyfriend and I started talking about other ways to live,” she explains. “We wanted to escape the rental/mortgage trap but still have our own home. We would really have struggled to buy a house in the UK and didn’t want to sign up to 30 or 40 years of financial pressure to pay it off regardless. For our generation and younger generations a mortgage is either inaccessible or incarcerating. As people who value our freedom and a good work-life balance, we needed to find a more affordable way to have our own home.”

The housing situation is, at Bristol City Council’s own admission, particularly bad in this part of the south west. As they noted in a report last year: “The average house price in Bristol was £282,624, some 21.4 per cent higher than the UK average.” The latest figures forecast house and rental prices will continue to increase here.

Beccy’s shed from the inside

With younger generations today buying homes later than their parents and grandparents did and often at a higher price in relation to their wages, Beccy’s concerns are very real.

“We have a culture in the UK where you aspire to buy your own home whatever the cost,” she adds, “but many people can’t get past paying their rent every month to save up for a house. It just seems like a complete waste of money to handover so much of your earnings to pay for someone else’s house.”

Living in a van wasn’t necessarily her first choice, though. She also looked at shipping containers but ruled that option out “due to the issue of obtaining planning permission and the cost of land”. She couldn’t afford to buy a boat, another obvious alternative, and so she settled on converting a lorry.

Of course, for some communities, a nomadic life on the road is nothing new. The UK’s Gypsy and Traveller communities have a long heritage and according to the latest Government data, they make up 22,662 caravans in England alone.

Beccy and others like her who have looked to van dwelling more recently in search of a more affordable way of life are part of what is sometimes referred to as the “new traveller” movement by sociologists like Rhiannon Craft at Cardiff University.

Beccy says she has everything she needs, down to a compost toilet and “a small shower which also doubles up as coat storage when its not in use”. The only snag is that every night, she must think about where to park her home.

Beccy’s shower and toilet

“I have a semi permanent park-up which is quite public but on private land. I have been really lucky to find it as it’s incredibly hard to find places to park off the street,” she explains. She is very careful not to reveal the exact location because Bristol’s van dwellers are currently at loggerheads with Bristol City Council. Earlier this month, the council announced a new policy for moving on what they call these “encampments”.

Over the last year, according to a council report, it has moved what it calls “encampments” of 200 converted vans on from more than 12 locations on residential streets around the city because of concerns they were having “a significant impact on public health and safety”. As such, the council now has a policy in partnership with Avon and Somerset Police of intervening when they believe an encampment is “unauthorised”, a danger to health and safety or causing problems for the local community.

“The City has experienced a relatively high level of encampments including those of vehicle dwellers and gypsies and travellers – some of these have caused considerable social tensions and environmental impact which needs effective management,” the report reads. “Between January 2016 and November 2017 Bristol City Council had approximately 100 vehicle dwellers living on the highway at any one time. There were also 21 Gypsy, Roma and Traveller encampments across the City. The number of occupied vehicles on the highway is currently estimated to be 200.”

Mark* is a 37-year-old truck driver from Bristol. He has also been living in a converted lorry with his wife for three years.

In response, to this Craft has put together a petition with more than 1,000 signatures arguing that the council’s policies were “discriminatory”. She thinks van dwellers need permanent sites.

“The public has been quite divided on the issue,” she tells i. “Many wanted to see better accommodation of van dwellers via site provision, which echoes calls what people have been saying for decades since that was repealed under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (CJPOA). However, others wanted authorities to get tougher.”

Craft says the housing crisis in Bristol is “unusually pronounced” and as a result, “many people have been providing for themselves via van dwelling in the absence of adequate state intervention.”

“If we actually consider van dwelling a kind of housing – which it is and has been for many communities for a long time – we can see that this is a housing crisis in itself. There is a real shortage of sites and authorised stopping places, and many travellers have been forced into bricks and mortar against their will,” she adds.

The interior of Mark’s converted truck

Mark* is a 37-year-old truck driver from Bristol. He has also been living in a converted lorry with his wife for three years. He tells i that it was poor standards in the private rented sector that pushed them to make the move.

“The biggest reason was that our rented flat, which we had lived in for about five years, was in really bad condition. There was a huge mould problem. There was black mould everywhere and the landlord didn’t do anything to sort it out – he didn’t want to spend the money to sort it out. There was also rising damp.”

The final straw came, Mark says, when their landlord said he was going to put the rent up. “We just thought, why are we being asked to pay more money for a flat which isn’t up to being lived in? We started looking at other flats in the area but in the five year period that we had been renting our flat, prices had skyrocketed. We were paying about £550 a month and prices had almost doubled. We were looking at £900 a month for a one bedroom flat which we couldn’t afford at all.”

Mark had some money saved and he and his wife calculated that it would be cheaper over the long term to buy a lorry and convert it than to continue private renting. He says their physical and mental health has now improved, and he questions the council’s argument that van dwelling that van dwelling is not a safe, long term option.

The living space of their converted truck

“I’ve never been healthier in my life,” Mark adds, “I’m not working 50 or 60 hours a week to pay for a rented flat. I’ve actually even joined the gym since I stopped renting because I’ve got the money to do it. Living in a mouldy flat is not healthy.”

Beccy agrees. “The housing market has changed,” she concludes. “We need new innovative solutions which allow people to choose alternative lifestyles and are affordable.” She thinks those who choose to live in vans in Bristol should have the right to permanent or semi-permanent places to park them.

“The best thing about living in a vehicle is having a cosy little home that is my own,” she says. “People often think it would be the freedom to move around but for me, the freedom comes not with the ability to move my home but to limit the financial pressures and have more time to volunteer and pursue other things.”

Mark’s converted lorry

A Bristol City Council spokesperson told i: “Earlier this month, we adopted a new policy for dealing with different types of encampments, which takes into account the fact that rough sleeping and living in a vehicle can be very different circumstances, and for some people, vehicle dwelling is a lifestyle choice.”

“We have considered providing a permanent site for vehicle dwellers; however, we have a duty of care to everyone in the city and don’t believe that sleeping in a vehicle is necessarily a safe, long term option. However, where vehicle dwellers are not causing problems for their neighbours, then we will respect their choices and allow them to stay where they are in the short term. Ultimately, we are committed to helping people find more sustainable housing options and where people are living in vehicles due to the housing crisis we will ensure that they are aware of their rights to apply for housing.”

Anna Minton: Private equity firms gobble up property and wreak havoc on tenants’ lives

Multibillion-pound firms like Blackstone have become leading property players. People who need homes are paying the price
Anna Minton Fri 20 Sep 2019 08.12 BST

Parents at the Fount nursery in London’s East End were taken aback recently when fees for their children’s care went up by more than £200 a month.

The reason for the price hike? The nursery is based in a former railway arch and there had been a massive 49.2% increase in rent by the new landlord, US private equity firm Blackstone, following a £1.5bn sell-off by Network Rail of network arches around the UK.

Blackstone and Telereal Trillium

 Blackstone and Telereal Trillium’s ‘dodgy hand-shaker’ acquisition of arches from Network Rail has been controversial. Photograph: Jack Taylor

On 13 September, the Commons public accounts committee issued a scathing report on the controversial sale of thousands of railway arches to a joint venture between Blackstone and Telereal Trillium. The MPs accused Network Rail of selling off a profitable asset for short-term gain, with a loss of income of at least £80m and potentially up to £160m a year. They also said the sale would mean fewer rights for future tenants, as well as denying existing tenants the option to extend their leases.

Rachel Munro-Peebles, who owns the nursery, faced a difficult decision: close the nursery or increase fees. She describes Blackstone as “ruthless”, pursuing a hardcore increase in rent that threatens the survival of her business. Hence the unpleasant news for parents.

But few of them would realise what they have in common with similar rent rises faced by a baker in Berlin, a bar owner in Toronto, and tenants in housing in Stockholm or Madrid.

The common factor is £6.7bn private equity behemoth Blackstone, now reported to be the biggest landlord in the world. It manages assets worth £123bn, including property in parts of Berlin, Toronto, Madrid, Dublin and Stockholm, where it is the biggest private owner of low-income housing

Local battles against rising rents, such as the protests against plans to redevelop railway arches in Brixton, where only nine of the original 39 businesses remain, are often reported as struggles against gentrification. But this is not gentrification. This is not about working-class areas being taken over by incoming hipsters and middle-class residents and businesses.

This is another phenomenon entirely. This is about how global private equity firms have become leading players in the property market since the 2008 crash. This was predicted by the late geographer Neil Smith in the 1970s, who argued that when the gap becomes big enough between the rent a property earns and what it could earn if redeveloped for new residents, private capital would flow in, attracted by the potential to make large profits.

The result is that since the financial crisis, many parts of London and other cities have become unrecognisable. UN special rapporteur on housing and human rights Leilani Farha says the commodification of real estate by private equity investors in recent years had made housing for many people increasingly expensive and precarious. “Landlords have become faceless corporations wreaking havoc with tenants’ right to security,” said Farha earlier this year, in a stinging critique of the role of companies like Blackstone in contributing to the global housing crisis.

She has written to Blackstone and to government officials in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the US, accusing the company of undertaking “aggressive evictions” to protect its rental income streams, shrinking the pool of affordable housing in some areas and effectively pushing low- and middle-income tenants from their homes. Her work on this has also been highlighted in a recent documentary by Swedish film-maker Fredrik Gertten.

On its website, Blackstone, which disputed the claims and said the UN report contained “numerous false claims, significant factual errors and inaccurate conclusions”, tells investors it seeks to “acquire high quality investments at discounts to replacement cost” – corporate speak for buying up assets cheap. It particularly favours what economists call “distressed markets”, as these have the greatest potential for capital growth. This includes repossessed homes in the US and Spain as well as increased activity in the UK – the company recently made a controversial move into the UK’s low-income housing market through for-profit housing provider Sage.

Following the financial crash Stephen Schwarzman, the company’s billionaire chief executive, described Blackstone’s strategy in Europe as “basically waiting to see how beaten up people’s psyches get, and where they’re willing to sell assets … You want to wait until there’s really blood in the streets.” Schwarzman recently gave Oxford University £150m – its largest single donation since the Renaissance – to fund a humanities centre that will be named after him. It’s a move to burnish his image that is unlikely to allay concerns about his company’s activities.

Meanwhile, despite reassurances from the company that now owns so many former railway arches, local communities remain fearful, including Munro-Peebles, who says Blackstone isn’t listening to any of its tenants. “How are we supposed to survive?”