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Experiments in Alternative Living (1)

The average twenty something in the UK will spend £263K on housing over the next 32 years of their life, and many will spend considerably more, which is, let’s face it, an enormous sum of money.

What I find deeply offensive about this astronomical figure is that there are a few brave souls currently engaged in what you might call ‘experiments in alternative living’ which demonstrate that it really is possible to live well without mortgaging your life away – for example, the house below cost £3K and took only 10 days to build.

ST_roundhouse_1307_2982916b

Given this, I think normal housing strategies are in need of serious reconsideration, and to this end this post provides a number of experiments in alternative housing options which means you don’t have to spend £300K on housing yourself over the next 3 decades!

The Housing Norm in the UK (which is just NUTS!)

According to this is money, a typical first-time buyer who buys a £151,000 home with a £121,000 repayment mortgage over 25 years will pay back £191,600,  calculated at 4% interest. This works out at £638 a month or £7664 a year, which is equivalent to 9 years worth of earnings on the median-salary. Of these repayments, interest accounts for £191, 600 – £121, 000 = £70, 000.

Previous to buying their first property,  A recent report by Santander found that the average person spends 7.4 years renting paying an average monthly rent of £474, totalling £42, 000,

Combined with the £191.6k loan repayment and the £30K assumed deposit in the scenario above this gives a total 32 year average spend on basic housing costs of £263 600. Obviously, if you are twenty-something, you have the choice to follow a similar path-to-property ownership and just settle for paying out an overall average of £600/ month for 32 years.

Obviously you have the choice to follow a similar path-to-property ownership and just settle for paying out an overall average of £600/ month for 32 years. Or, like me, you might think this is totally nuts and consider doing all, or any of the following in order to reduce this figure…

  1. Live with your parents for the rest of your life
  2. Squat someone else’s second (or third/ fourth/ fifth etc….) property
  3. Live in a van
  4. Buy some land and live on it without planning permission
  5. Set up a low impact eco-village

A key part of the sociological imagination is to make the familiar seem strange and to wake people up to how odd ‘normal’ actually is. In the case of housing,  I think it’s very strange that so many of us just go along with paying so much for something that really needn’t cost so much.

This post is really just about raising awareness that are alternatives to this crazy mortgage debt-cycle, and the above five alternatives are all viable, even if challenging….

One –  Live with your parents – until they die.

According to the Office for National Statistics, A total of 3.3 million 20- to 34-year-olds lived with their parents in 2013, the highest number since it started keeping records in 1996.

While the prospect of a 34 year old still living with their parents may sound sad, it is good for your finances. Taking the average rent of £5688/ year, if someone were to live with their parents from the age of 20-34, they could potentially save £80 000, and that’s before accumulations on savings are factored in, and for the ultimate savings on housing costs, you could just live with your parents until they die, which is what 42% of current renters are waiting for in order to be able to get their foot on that first rung of the property ladder.

Two – Squat

Squatting means to unlawfully occupy an uninhabited building or settle on a piece of land.

Suatting homelesss solution.pngUntil recently squatting in England and Wales was generally a civil matter, not a criminal matter, However, in 2012  Squatting was technically criminalised by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012, section 144 of the LASPO made it a criminal offence to trespass in residential properties with the intention of living there.

However, a few test cases have revealed that if the police find you squatting a building, charge you with squatting and you plead not-guilty, it is actually nearly impossible for the prosecuters to prove that you were actually living in the building permanently.  Also, the law does not cover non-residential properties.

There are a few things you need to get right in order squat a property for any length of time –The squatter’s advisory service recommend the following –

  • You need to make sure you do not commit criminal damage to get into the property, and repair any such damage that someone else has done immediately after you take up occupation.
  • Always make sure somone is in the property, because if the property is vacant you can be evicted.
  • You should contact the utilities providors asap to prove that you intend to pay.
  • When the police turn up, do not give them entry, talk to them through the door, and finally research who the owner is so you know who you are up against when you go to court, and don’t expect them to be too happy about it the fact that you’re squatting their property.

It’s difficult to say exactly how many people squat in the UK exactly given that squatters don’t generally want to draw attention to themselves, but there are some high profile, political examples –  One of the most interesting being Grow Heathrow which was established in an abandoned market garden site in Sipson, one of the villages due to be completely tarmaced to make way for a third runway at Heathrow. Over the past four years the site has played host to a wide range of political gatherings for groups such as: UK Uncut, Climate Camp, Reclaim the Fields, and The Transition Network, so you would need a certain amount of subcultural capital to fit in to this network, but if you can embed yourself comfortably into that sort of thing, then the payback is free accomodation, and probably food too.

Also of interest is this site – Made Possible by Squatting which is an exhibition from  September 2013 documenting stories of how squatting has benefitted the lives of individuals and communities in London- against the backdrop of the government’s attempts to criminalise squatting.

Three – Live in a Van

Admitedly this doesn’t seem to be a very popular option here in the UK, so firstly to America for some inspiration….  To Simplify is a blog by someone called Glen, whose been living a mobile life for over 5 years in a heavily converted 1988 Volkswagen Vanagon, which he describes as the closest thing to a home he’s ever owned. The blog simply documents Glen’s life on the open road, and he also details his total van conversion, from totally gutting the original van and then installing a whole range of new features – not least of all the engine and a solar electricity system. I particularly like this picture in which Glen’s parked up with other, more typical American mobile home dwellers – it sort of sums up his philosophy.

van 1

Bringing it back across the Atlantic, El Pocito is a nice little blog which, among many other things of an alternative nature, outlines the experience of two art teachers, originally from the UK who spent 9 years travelling through Spain and Portugal in their converted van. The site offers some excellent advice on the realities of van-living on the continent.

Campervan Life is a web site devoted to providing advice on buying, converting and living in a camper van, set up by a guy called Darren who bought a cheap Mercedes Sprinter (£1000 in 2006), learnt how to convert it on-the-job with no prior experience or any significant background in DIY and then travelled around Europe in it for 9 months. He lists the ‘van-travel’ related costs of his trip at under £3K, and although he doesn’t appear to include costs of the conversion can’t imagine it would have cost more than £1000, which means that in total Darren had almost a year of comfortable living and travel for under £5K, which is cheaper than the average rent in the UK.

While there are no doubt hundreds of people who live in vans long-term in the UK, but hardly any of them document their experience, hardly surprising given the degree of prejudice against ‘travellers’. The only example I could find was of a guy (who, incidentally has a job!) who’s put a few videos up on youtube outlining aspects of his life in a converted ambulance. In this clip he’s talking about his ‘split charge relay’ while smoking a king size roll up (contents undisclosed)

Incidentally, living in a van may sound like it’s an extreme strategy for saving money, and possibly only for hippies, and you’d be forgiven for making this mistake given that one of the first search returns for ‘living in a van uk’ takes you to a forum called ‘UK HIPPY’, but there are even members of the relatively conservative caravan club who have lived in their caravans long-term, combining this with either owning a small no-frills apartment, or house-sitting.

Four – Buy some land and just build without planning permission

In eco-circles, the best known example of someone who has actually done this is Tony Wrench and his partner, who built their own low-impact roundhouse for about £3K in 10 days (picture above). Actually, this may be the only example of a couple who have managed to do this and get away with gaining retrospective planning permission, others, such as the couple who built the beautiful hobbit-house below don’t seem to have been so lucky.

Shortly to be torn down because local planners judged it to be 'out of touch with the countryside'
Shortly to be torn down because local planners judged it to be ‘out of touch with the countryside’

For this reason, although this particular strategy is the one I intend to adopt at some point in the future, you might be better off going for option five…..

Five  – Set up a low-impact community

There aren’t very many low impact communities in the UK, this is a very emergent phenomenon, but one example of a group who have managed to get temporary planning for their dwellings is Tinker’s Bubble, a community of 11 adults and 2 children based in Somerset who live on 28 acres of land in self-built houses, grow most of their own food and are fossil-fuel free. I don’t have too many about the economics of the place, but the dwellings most of them live in seem to be of Tony Wrench’s low impact design and the weekly contribution for food is only £20, so compared to the average mortgage-monkey, this represents a significant saving.

Alternative families.jpg

One of the most inspiring recent examples is that of Llammas. Based in Pembrokeshire, on about 75 acres of land, this is one of the few fully legitimate (in planning terms) eco-projects in the U.K. It combines the traditional smallholding model with the latest innovations in environmental design, green technology and permaculture. The ecovillage was granted planning permission in 2009 by the Welsh Government and is currently part-way through the construction phase. The dwellings being built here are more robust than those in Tinker’s Bubble, and thus more expensive, but over the course of a lifetime these individuals will save themselves well over a £100K per person compared to the average, and have a significantly higher quality of life into the bargain.

In conclusion

Although all of the above involve more hassle than the standard massive-mortgage route to home ownership, personally I think a little discomfort and risk is worth it given the injustice involved with said mortgage route – via which you pay tens of thousands of pounds to people who simply haven’t done anything to earn it.

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Subcultural Theories of Crime – A Summary

Introduction/ The basics

  • Subcultural Theory explains deviance in terms of a deviant group, split apart from the rest of the society which encourages deviance

  • Historical Period: The 1940s- 60S, Underclass Theory – 1980s

Albert Cohen: Status Frustration

  • working class boys try to gain status within school and fail, thus suffer status frustration

  • Some such boys find each-other and form a subculture

  • status is gained within the subculture by breaking mainstream rules.

Cloward and Ohlin: Illegitimate Opportunity Structure (IOS)

  • A combination of strain theory and subcultural theory

  • The type of subculture an individual joins depends on existing subcultures (which form an IOS)

  • There are three types of subculture: Criminal (working class areas/ organised petit crime), Conflict (less table populations), and Retreatist (e.g. drug subcultures) which C and O saw as being formed by people who lacked the skills to join the former two).

Walter Miller: Focal Concerns

  • Saw the lower working class as a subculture with its own set of unique values

  • Working class culture emphasised six focal concerns (or core values) which encouraged criminal behaviour amongst working class youth.

  • Three examples of these focal concerns where toughness (physical prowess), excitement (risk-taking) and smartness (being street-smart)

Charles Murray: Underclass Theory

By the 1980s an Underclass had emerged in Britain.

  • Key features = long term unemployment, high rates of teen pregnancies and single parent households

  • Means children are not socialised into mainstream norms and values and have become NEETS

  • The underclass is 20 times more criminal than the rest of society.

Overall Evaluations of Subcultural Theories of Crime

Positive Negative
  • Unlike Bonds of Attachment Theory recognises that much crime is done in groups, not lone individuals
  • Unlike Functionalism does not see crime as functional.
X – Contemporary research shows gang (subculture) membership is more fluid than the above research stuggests

X – Recent research shows that the underclass doesn’t really exist and working class culture is more complex

X – There is a much wider variety of subcultures today

X – Ignores the role of agents of social control labelling in subculture formation

X – Underclass Theory is ideological – based on moral panics

X – Marxism: ignores the crimes of the elite.

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Subcultural Theories of Deviance

Subcultural Theory: The Basics

A Subculture is a group that has values that are different to the mainstream culture. Subcultural theorists argue that deviance is the result of whole groups breaking off from society who have deviant values (subcultures) and deviance is a result of these individuals conforming to the values and norms of the subculture to which they belong.

In contrast to Social Control theorists, it is the pull of the peer group that encourages individuals to commit crime, rather than the lack of attachment to the family or other mainstream institutions. Subcultural theory also helps explain non-utilitarian crimes such as vandalism and joy riding which strain theory cannot really explain. Deviance is a collective response to marginalisation.

There are four people you need to know about for Subcultural Theory:

1. Albert Cohen’s Status Frustration Theory
2. Cloward and Ohlin’s three types of subculture
3. Walter Miller – the focal concerns of the working class
4. Charles Murray – the underclass and Crime (links to the New Right)

Albert Cohen: Deviant Subcultures emerge because of Status Frustration

Albert Cohen argues that working class subcultures emerge because they are denied status in society. Just like Merton, Cohen argued that working class boys strove to emulate middle-class values and aspirations, but lacked the means to achieve success. This led to status frustration: a sense of personal failure and inadequacy.

Cohen argued that many boys react to this by rejecting socially acceptable values and patterns of acceptable behaviour. Because there are several boys going through the same experiences, they end up banding together and forming delinquent subcultures.

This delinquent subculture reverses the norms and values of mainstream culture, offering positive rewards (status) to those who are the most deviant. Status may be gained by being malicious, intimidating others, breaking school rules or the law and generally causing trouble.

This pattern of boys rejecting mainstream values and forming delinquent subcultures first starts in school and then becomes more serious later on, taking on the form of truancy and possibly gang membership

Subcultural Theory 2: Cloward and Ohlin’s 3 types of subculture

Cloward and Ohlin develop Cohen’s subcultural theory further, expanding on it in order to try and explain why different types of subculture emerge in different regions. They suggest that the ‘illegitimate opportunity structure’ affects what type of subculture emerges in response to status frustration – The varied social circumstances in which working-class youth live give rise to three types of delinquent subculture.

1. Criminal Subcultures are characterised by utilitarian crimes, such as theft. They develop in more stable working class areas where there is an established pattern of crime. This provided a learning opportunity and career structure for aspiring young criminals, and an alternative to the legitimate job market as a means of achieving financial rewards. Adult criminals exercise social control over the young to stop them carrying out non-utilitarian delinquent acts – such as vandalism – which might attract the attention of the police.

2. Conflict subcultures emerge in socially disorganised areas where there is a high rate of population turnover and a consequent lack of social cohesion. These prevent the formation of stable adult criminal subcultures Conflict subcultures are characterised by violence, gang warfare, ‘mugging’ and other street crime. Both approved and illegal means of achieving mainstream goals are blocked or limited, and young people express their frustration at this situation through violence or street crime, and at least obtain status through success in subcultural peer-group values. This is a possible explanation for the gang culture which is increasingly appearing in run down areas of the UK, and possibly explains the UK riots of 2011.

3. Retreatist subcultures emerge among those lower class youth who are ‘double failures’ – they have failed to succeed in both mainstream society and in the crime and gang cultures above. The response is a retreat into drug addiction and alcoholism, paid for by petty theft, shoplifting and prostitution

Alternative Perspectives to Consensus Subcultural Theories of Crime

  1. Paul Willis’ 1977 study of the Counter-School-Culture represents a Marxist critique of consensus subcultural theory. Willis argued that the working class lads formed a subculture in order to ‘have a laff’ in a school system which they had accurately identified as being irrelevant to their futures. Unlike Cohen, these lads never aspired to be middle class, they identified themselves as working class, rejected middle class aspirations, and rejected the middle class system of the school – thus why Willis coined the term ‘counter (against) school culture’.
  2. David Matza has developed what might cautiously be termed an Interactionist approach to understanding subcultures. Matza suggested that there were no distinct subcultures among young people. Rather, all groups in society share a set of subterranean values. These are simply deviant values that encourage us to go against social norms – the urge to party hard, drink too much, swear, stealing, punch the idiots you work with and sleep with your brother’s wife etc. These are usually held under control, but sometimes emerge at peak leisure times – weekends, holidays and so on. The difference between a persistent offender and a law-abiding citizen is simply how often and in what circumstances these subterranean values emerge.
  3. Postmodernists point out that the nature of subcultures today has changed, in that subcultures are much more common today than they were in the 1960s. Today, subcultures are just a normal part of life. Subcultural theory assumes that there are ‘mainstream norms and values’ which subcultures deviate from. This is wrong according to Postmodernism – in society today, deviance and hence subcultures are ‘normal’, which renders the whole of subcultural theory irrelevant in helping us to understand crime and deviance.

Related Posts 

Subcultural theories of deviance are the second group of theories of crime on the A level crime and deviance specification (AQA), normally taught after functionalist and strain theories.

The Functionalist Perspective on Crime and Deviance

Hirschi’s Social Control Theory of Crime

Robert Merton’s Strain Theory