I love this house, don’t you just love this house? This is the dream home of Karim Rashid. It has solar panel heated water, energy-efficient appliances, reuse of pluvial and grey water, low energy LED lighting and raised radiant flooring – but we’re most interested by the “combs” that give the house its name. These reclaimed wooden fins (which look like comb teeth) are set at angles to let in light while also providing privacy. Inside, the house consists of four main areas known as “play,” “eat,” “sleep” and “cleanse.” . I can’t help but admire Mr Rashid for taking some of his millions and expending them on the design of an eco-friendly home. I can well understand why, having spent so much money on his living arrangements he might resent having to pay a mansion tax on his humble dwelling. After all, as a top Labour donor has remarked,‘Business people in London live in houses worth millions but that does not mean that they have the means to pay the tax.’
And so on to the tale of a gentleman who also did not have the means to pay a tax on the home he was attempting to occupy, Daniel Gauntlett. Mr Gauntlett is now regrettably no longer with us, this is in part due to a law that was passed fifteen months ago, Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. I love that the name of the act has the words ‘Legal’ and ‘Aid’ in it, giving you the impression that the law is all about helping people-like in the good old ‘poor people is our people’ days-it isn’t. What it is about is criminalising residential squatters. Mr Gauntlett, a 35 year old unemployed man had no home, but he had found a home that was unoccupied and which he attempted to squat. Unsurprisingly in modern day Britain, the police were called and Mr Gauntlett was removed from the property in line with the new law that had been introduced.
In February 2013, Mr Gauntlett lay down on the steps outside the unoccupied house he was not permitted to squat, fell asleep and never woke up.
Mr Weatherley who introduced the legislation that led to the death of Mr Gauntlett had this to say,
‘It is true that some of those who are homeless have squatted but this does not make them squatters. A typical squatter is middle-class, web-savvy, legally minded, university-educated and, most importantly, society-hating. They are political extremists whose vision for society is a dysfunctional medieval wasteland without property rights, where an Englishman’s castle is no longer his home . If squatters really cared about the homeless then they would help them access council services, not scare them into believing that they would be arrested.’ (Kent Argus 2013)
Unsurprisingly Mr Weatherley found himself the target of much vitriol and a rather nasty political spat ensued (or so I’m told). I’m sure he felt bemused by the outrage the death of this impoverished pleb provoked. Why, he must have wondered didn’t Mr Gauntlett simply get on his bike and find a job?