International day for the elimination of racial discrimination

The terrorist attacks in New Zealand reflect the rise in racist violence across the world.

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At home, race and faith-based crimes have spiked since the EU Referendum result, with around 100,000 such 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 experience significant disadvantage and discrimination; including in the national housing system.

The 20th anniversary last month of the McPherson Inquiry into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence marked that institutional racism persists in many sectors of the economy, public services and civil society.

And the ‘hostile environment’, which has developed to discourage migration to the UK, and the fallout from Brexit, are presenting significant challenges to those of us who work in the BME housing sector.

That’s why today’s (21st March) UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is so important in enabling us to reflect on how racial disadvantage and discrimination in the UK can be tackled.

We know, for example, that BME people experience more severe housing need than whites: 1 in three of statutory homelessness acceptances are BME compared with their representation in the population of 1 in seven.

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.

So how do BME housing associations confront these challenges? Firstly, we can draw on three decades of endeavour in the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

Having just celebrated our 30th anniversary as a sector, BME housing organisations are at the forefront in supporting BME communities in the areas in which we work.

Around 4 in five of our lettings are made to BME applicants whereas for the mainstream social housing sector the lettings rate drops to just 1 in five.

Secondly, besides offering enhanced housing opportunities to BME applicants, we 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.

We are bridges between communities, promoting cohesion, and confronting extremism.

We are also crucial vehicles for BME people to control their housing and neighbourhood assets.

Thirdly, satisfaction with our services and perceptions of VFM are greater than the average for the mainstream social housing sector.

These successes are advanced by our embrace of innovation, our 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 where BME housing organisations put down deep roots from the late 1980’s onwards.

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