BME housing sector a key bulwark against racial discrimination and disadvantage in housing on ‘Stephen Lawrence Day’

The first ‘Stephen Lawrence Day’ provides an opportunity to take stock of the extent and nature of racism, especially institutional racism, in the UK.

The 20th anniversary of the McPherson Inquiry which dissected the death and police handling of black teenager Stephen Lawrence underscored the persistence of institutional racism in many sectors of the economy, public services and civil society.

It is also worrying that race and faith-based crimes have spiked since the EU Referendum result, which seems to have set loose a new wave of racism and right wing violence, with around 100,000 race hate crimes recorded by the police last year; that’s 270 every day, or eleven every hour.

Research, including that by the Cabinet Office’s Racial Disparity Unit, reveals that black and ethnic minority communities still experience significant disadvantage and discrimination; even after a half century of race relations legislation and initiatives across a range of sectors.

And the ‘hostile environment’, which has developed to discourage migration to the UK, and the fallout from Brexit, are presenting significant challenges to those who work to confront racism and discrimination.

A range of studies confirm that significant racial disadvantage and discrimination remain in housing and communities in many parts of the UK.

For example:

We know that BME people experience more severe housing need than whites: 1 in 3 of statutory homelessness acceptances are BME compared with their representation in the population of 1 in 7. BME communities are more frequently to be living in poor or overcrowded housing, and to suffer fuel poverty.

Overall, BME households more often rent and are less likely to be home owners. This results in lower levels of wealth, assets and security that adversely affect life chances of BME people.

Alongside, intensification of poverty, resulting from austerity policies enacted in the last decade, is disproportionately felt in BME communities. Indeed, poverty is almost twice as high for BME households – at 35% – than for whites, and it has grown considerably since 2008.

A report by the Human City Institute for BMENational confirms that BME people are much more likely to live in the most deprived neighbourhoods where lower life expectancy is the norm and illness rates climb higher than in more affluent areas.

Research also points to BME communities, especially in London, being the main sufferers of ‘social cleansing’ with more than 150,000 social tenants, many of them BME, having been moved out of the capital from their estates, which have been earmarked for gentrification.

The BME housing sector, for which HCI has conducted a range of research, reveals how BME housing organisations confront these challenges.

Most notably, the BME housing sector can draw on three decades of endeavour in the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods. It leads in supporting BME communities stressed areas. Around 4 in 5 lettings are made to BME applicants whereas for the mainstream social housing sector the lettings rate drops to just 1 in 5.

Secondly, besides offering enhanced housing opportunities to BME applicants, BME housing organisations are deeply embedded in the most disadvantaged communities, creating significant social value through a range of community initiatives and enterprises, so acting as a bulwark against austerity.

BME housing organisations remain anchored in the communities that founded them. They are bridges between communities, promoting cohesion, and confronting extremism. And they are crucial vehicles for BME people to control their housing and neighbourhood assets.

Thirdly, satisfaction with BME housing sector services and perceptions of VFM are greater than the average for the mainstream social housing sector. These successes are advanced by the BME housing sector’s embrace of innovation, widely shared expertise, and joint-working with larger social landlords, devolved and local government.

Within the context of a challenging operating terrain, the BME housing sector will continue to champion the needs and aspirations of BME people, promote community cohesion and help to improve the lives and life chances of all who live in the neighbourhoods

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