My son likes to rummage in bins. He is a connoisseur of rubbish in all its variety. He can tell you what time central London convenience stores put their binbags out on to the streets and hazard a good guess as to what will be in them. He can tell you about how the waste policies of major supermarkets differ: how much of their rubbish is diverted to landfill and how much is recycled or incinerated; which ones lock up their bins, and which leave them open. S. is a “freegan” – someone who subsists largely on food discarded by others. Through this practice, he has become thoroughly acquainted him with the ins and outs of rubbish and he long ago got over any squeamishness about handling it. For him, a bin full of chucked-out food is not an object of physical revulsion. Rather, it’s an opportunity.

And today a group of people is drawing attention to the iniquities in the system that allows between 30 and 50% of its food to be thrown away. Food waste campaigners have rallied together to give free food to 5000 strangers in order to get their voices heard.

Free lunch will be offered to passers-by in Trafalgar Square this afternoon between 12 and 2 as part of the Feeding the 5000 campaign to prepare for the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The campaign hopes to raise awareness about food waste in wealthy nations. According to ‘This is Rubbish’,  families in the UK alone waste 25% of the food they buy.

Volunteers will offer a range of food including hot soup, smoothies and sandwiches made from salvaged produce that would be otherwise wasted. Odd shaped carrots, wonky onions – all are grist to the mill.

S. is also a squatter.

And despite 1.8 million Britons being on the waiting list for social housing, one million homes are expected to be empty in the UK this year, (according to Inside Housing magazine’s Empty Promises campaign).

Property left unattended can develop serious structural problems, attract crime, detract business, demoralise the local community and devalue neighbouring property prices. Squatters like my son inhabit houses that would otherwise fall to rack and ruin.

So-called “posh squats” have hit the headlines on numerous occasions this year. It is estimated that there are 1million empty homes in the UK. The value of the empty properties is staggering: some Mayfair mansions are worth as much as £50m, even in their dilapidated state. Many of the biggest and most expensive houses are owned not by ‘dusty old dowagers down on their luck but by mystery investors hiding their identities behind offshore companies’.

The owners leave them empty sometimes because they lose track of their properties. Often they have a place in New York, a place in Monte Carlo, one in the south of France and so on. Many elusive owners don’t have the slightest intention of bringing them back to life: it is merely an asset to be traded as they see fit.

Two companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a tax haven in the Caribbean, were threatened with a compulsory purchase order – until a gang of squatters, plus their dogs, moved in and were pictured on the front page of The Sun in January.

Builders appeared after the squatters were evicted, but they were on site for only a few days and have never returned. It’s just the same situation nine months on, only now they’ve left the lights on.

We have come to expect cynical profiteering from the big international companies. However, according to my son, the vast majority of the empty properties in London at least are council-owned. The grand 3-storey Victorian mansion he occupied in a leafy street in Peckham was one such. The garden was huge and provided much of their sustenance, including lovely home-made jam. When the former occupier had died a decade before it was left to rot. Eventually it had deteriorated to such an extent that the council decided it was no longer worth shoring up. After 18 months of neighbourliness, responsible behaviour and bills paid, my son and his friends were evicted and now the house is the haunt of drug users. The house is delapidated and eroding the good will of others – moslty families – in the street. The council still leaves it to rack and ruin.

This story is repeated a thousand-fold every day.

Let’s think of the homeless and hungry this holiday season.

Thanks to the good old Guardian  for much of this information.

Advertisements