Equality body calls for more housing

9 Jul 09
Solving the shortage of council homes is the only way to tackle the myth that immigrants are being given priority in social accommodation, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
By David Williams

09 July 2009

Solving the shortage of council homes is the only way to tackle the myth that immigrants are being given priority in social accommodation, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

A study, published by the commission on July 7, uncovered widespread misconceptions around social housing and immigration. It found that only 2% of those living in social housing had moved to the UK in the past five years.

Equality Commission chair Trevor Phillips said councils and social landlords must work to ensure that communities were aware of the real picture, and that the situation was being caused by a lack of homes.

‘Much of the public concern about the impact of migration on social housing has at its heart the failure of social housing supply to meet the demands of the population. The poorer the area, the longer the waiting lists, therefore the greater the tension.’

A Local Government Association spokesman said Phillips’ analysis was ‘absolutely spot on’. He said: ‘Supply has not been keeping pace with demand – that creates a vacuum in which people can blame other people. Councils have not been able to build housing for decades. Over that time, demand for social housing has increased year on year.’

Helen Williams, assistant director of the National Housing Federation, agreed, saying: ‘The shortage of housing is the big issue that needs tackling.’ She added that reforms to the system by which homes are allocated could also change the perception of unfairness.

‘The current system defines certain people as being in need – but other people who arguably are equally in need are unlikely to get a look in until they’ve reached crisis point,’ she told Public Finance.

Williams pointed to the NHF’s own research, which found that 4.6% of housing association lettings went to migrants in 2008/09.

The Equality Commission study, carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research, found that only 11% of recent migrants live in social housing – the same proportion as for the general population.

The findings contradict claims by far-Right groups that asylum seekers and economic migrants are able to jump the housing queue ahead of British-born families.

Nevertheless, many families interviewed by the IPPR during the research feared the system discriminated against white British families.

Social housing is currently allocated according to need, with homeless people, pensioners and families with children being prioritised.

However, on June 29, the government’s policy programme, Building Britain’s Future, suggested that the criteria might be reformed to benefit those applicants with established links to an area.

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