4 NOVEMBER 2000, Page 20

Banned wagon

A weekly survey of the things our rulers want to prohibit

WHEN the welfare state was constructed after the last war, it was welcomed as sal- vation for the poor. Nobody imagined there would come a time when depen- dence upon the state would become compulsory. Recently, there came to light the unusual case of Stan Gumienny, a 74-year-old Polish immigrant found liv- ing in the woods above Pontypridd. Hav- ing lost his job and his home when the local mine closed in 1960, he established a hovel where, for the next 40 years, he eked out a life as a hunter-gatherer. He never collected his pension nor called upon the National Health Service.

A detached observer would be hard- pressed not to admire Gumienny's resourcefulness. But not the state. His lifestyle breaks just about every law in the book. Although the local authority insists it has 'persuaded' Mr Gumienny to exchange his hovel for a council flat, the fact is that officialdom possesses considerable powers to prevent citizens living the simple life, and it is not afraid to use them.

Any local authority that takes a dis- like to your home can place upon it either an enclosure order, which com- pels you to carry out certain improve- ments, or a condemnation order, which forbids you from living in the building until extensive modernisation has been carried out. Drinking water from your own well is illegal unless you have the water inspected regularly by the local authority. The fact that you own land does not give you the right to live on it: Mr Gumienny's hovel would have required planning permission as if it were a permanent bungalow.

The justification for the law, of course, is that civilised society does not tolerate people living in Third World standards of comfort. The wonder is, though, how has Mr Gumienny man- aged to retain his health at the age of 74 when so many of our council-house- dwelling, benefit-dependent poor are physically wrecked by the age of 40?

Ross Clark