In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities published the Sewell Report. The Inside Housing race and housing editorial panel wants to join the many others who have spoken up to express disappointment and disbelief at this report, and to state its view that institutional racism does exist in the UK, as accepted by previous commissions – Macpherson, Lammy, Marmot and Williams. As such, the report fails to reflect the lived experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the UK.
The report has, at this point, already been criticised heavily, including from within the housing sector in statements by BME National and Shelter, as well as others such as the Runnymede Trust. The panel shares many of these criticisms.
The Sewell Report did not focus on housing, and barely mentioned housing except in terms of discussing homeownership. This was a missed opportunity, because as the sector well knows, access to a decent home you can afford is essential in giving you the stability to put down roots, get a decent job, and for children to succeed in their education and to fulfil their aspirations.
Lack of decent, affordable housing – which is a problem across the UK, but disproportionately for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people – plays a crucial role in why opportunities are lost and aspirations are unfulfilled. The report itself acknowledged, although it did not explore the implications of this, that “ethnic minority Britons are more likely to live in persistent poverty and overcrowded housing”.
It matters if policy – including housing policy – is not designed with this in mind. Examples of this include a focus by government and the sector on building new homes for homeownership, which are often out of reach of minority ethnic communities due to economic and wealth disparities in the UK.
“We ask the sector to ask itself questions about how and what it prioritises in using its resources in addressing those in greatest housing need. What actions are your organisations taking to address racism and disparities faced by minority ethnic residents living in your communities and in your homes, and staff working in your organisations?”
During the pandemic, another example has occurred: the focus of local authority funding on rough sleepers. This investment was necessary and welcome. However, funds were not provided for other groups of homeless people, such as families and individuals living in temporary accommodation with shared facilities, even though this clearly put them at risk of COVID-19. One in three homeless households are from ethnic minority backgrounds compared with one in seven from the general population.
The panel wishes to address this statement not to the government or the Sewell commission, but to the housing sector. The report was a missed opportunity. It failed to take the opportunity to address the challenges to co-design a new way forward, and think and act differently in partnership with those who can instigate change.
However, this is something the housing sector can take action on, regardless of the disappointments of the report. Institutional racism is a significant issue that our tenants and staff from minority ethnic backgrounds face. It contributes to poverty among people from those backgrounds and inhibits their ability to meet their aspirations.
We ask the sector to ask itself questions about how and what it prioritises in using its resources in addressing those in greatest housing need. What actions are your organisations taking to address racism and disparities faced by minority ethnic residents living in your communities and in your homes, and staff working in your organisations?
Are investments by your organisations directed at areas and communities in most housing need? Have you asked at board and executive level: “Why are minority ethnic people over-represented in homelessness statistics, in overcrowded housing, and in precarious private rented sector accommodation?”
To look within, what is the ethnicity pay gap in your organisation, and will you commit to publishing it? What is the break-down by ethnicity of staff at different grades in your organisation and will you publish this?
Who are the race and housing editorial panel?
- Adunni Adams, head of delivery at Catalyst
- Farida Aslam, senior neighbourhoods manager (services to older people and community investment) at Vale of Glamorgan Council
- Cym D’Souza, chief executive of Arawak Walton Housing Association, and chair of BME National
- Sian Edwards, temporary accommodation team lead (PLS and hostels) at Kingston Council
- Lorri Holding, head of customer services at Warrington Housing Association
- Shahi Islam, head of affordable housing grants at Homes England
- Dilip Kavi, chief executive of PA Housing
- Olu Olanrewaju, associate director of Altair International
- Jahanara Rajkoomar, director of community investment at Metropolitan Thames Valley
- Jitinder Takhar, chief executive of Homes for Lambeth
- Rosalind Ugwu, independent consultant