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.