My radio play, Options for Dealing with Squatting, is now out! The Narrativist is a unique podcast that splices a conventional interview with an original radio play on the same theme. My episode is about squatting. No: not weightlifting, but the nefarious art of appropriating unused buildings for shelter.
In 2011, inspired by a company specialising in tenant evictions, Conservative ministers decided that criminalising squatting would be a cheap and popular way of winning the support of Daily Mail Man. Accordingly, the Ministry of Justice launched a perfunctory consultation, entitled Options for Dealing with Squatting.
Despite the fact that over 95% of the responses came out in favour of “squatters rights”, the Conservative-Liberal coalition government went ahead, tacking the criminalisation of squatting onto the end of the Legal Aid Bill and squeezing discussion of the amendment into late night sessions in the House of Lords.
The slapdash process smacked of populism. The Metropolitan Police Service, who would bear the brunt of the work involved in enforcing any anti-squatting law, were stoutly against any such change. They argued that the current protections against trespass and criminal damage were sufficient – breaking into property was already a crime, why shift the onus onto the police to patrol empty properties?
A cynic might claim that such a move would make the bailiff’s job easier, boosting the profit margin for companies specialising in tenant evictions, for example. Those against the amendment argued that it would increase the number of homeless living on the streets, instantly criminalise an entire class of already vulnerable people, and possibly contribute to fatalities, particularly in winter, among a demographic who already have a much reduced life expectancy.
The law passed. I’d love to say that its impact was purely cosmetic, a sop to throw The Daily Mail to show that the government was doing something about “scroungers”. But since the law came into effect, the number of people sleeping rough has doubled. It only took one winter before the law claimed its first victim: Daniel Gauntlett died of hypothermia outside an abandoned bungalow in Kent. Earlier that evening he’d been stopped from entering the building by police.
None of that is very funny. So I decided to write a ridiculous mockumentary, inspired by the Dog Section Press pamphlet Options for Dealing with Squatting, which collects and contextualises responses from the consultation. More people should read pamphlets like this, to try and understand what little it takes to change the law, and how little most people care.
You can download the podcast for free here – my bit starts 20 minutes in. Enjoy!
Special thanks to Charlie Kerson and Jack Hudson, and particularly to all the actors who tied all the loose ends of my script into a coherent ball of funny (Susan Harrison, Carolina Grierson, Charlie Kemp and James Witt). Big thanks too to London Comedy Writers, where this script had its first (overlong) reading last year.
If you’re a writer (or actor), then The Narrativist are open for scripts. Just pick a social issue, write a quick proposal and send it in to Charlie and Jack. They’re a dream to work with.