A form of squatting by any other name


Yorkley Court Community Farm

I’ve just come back from visiting a community farm in the Forest of Dean.

What’s a “community farm” you ask?

In this case it’s a squatted farm on disputed land in which the residents – mainly young people from the nearby cities – are learning the art of sustainable living.

Well I say “squatted” and that gives you a particular impression of the status of the people living there

The word implies people occupying property to which they are not legally entitled. And that’s true, of course.

Except that if you look at the history of land, all land was originally squatted, and all current legal entitlements have only come about because historic squatting has given way to customary ownership over the generations.

70% of the land in the UK is owned by less than 1% of the population. Britain has the second most unequal distribution of land in the world. Most of that land was acquired by conquest; which is to say that it was squatted, but that the squatters were wielding swords at the time.

History is written by the victors. Then again, so are the laws.

So the legal system was built to protect the property rights of those who had originally taken the land by force of arms.

One of the squatters told me an interesting story. He said that in 2008 he had been working in the City of London. Before the financial crisis he had spent his time trying to make a profit for his bosses and an income for himself. After the collapse his job shifted, and more and more he found himself repossessing houses from people unable to pay their mortgage.

That was when the penny dropped. The people who had created the financial crisis were profiting, and the people who were paying for it were the victims.

There’s much talk of the recovery at the moment, but the fact is the bulk of the wealth since 2008 has gone to the top 1%.

Banks are sitting on heaps of property acquired from exploiting other people’s misery.

Which is just a form of squatting by another means.

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