Archive for July 5th, 2009

Our housing policy must be coherent and fair – this is neither

July 5, 2009
Are you Local?

"Are you Local?"

Oh dear. According to The Guardian, the Government’s new “local homes for local people” could leave local authorities open to legal challenges for discrimination.

It appears that IPPR, in an unpublished report commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have conducted some research, and their findings are interesting – and should be heeded by the government.

First, the policy will unwittingly favour white residents over ethnic minorites if the criteria include such things as local family links, as ethnic minorities – no matter how settled and integrated they may be into their area – are less likely to have relatives living locally.

Secondly, consider this conclusion of the report in its estimation of the way that current housing allocations work in practice:

There was no evidence that allocation policies discriminated against white groups. There was a small amount of evidence that some [current] social housing policies unintentionally discriminated against minority ethnic communities.

This is the money shot, because the whole focus of the government’s change of tack on housing is to try to head off white working class anger about the way in which the housing system “favours” ethnic minorities.

There are lots of myths about housing: the BNP feed them, and then feed off them for their electoral advantage. I know anecdotally from campaigning in areas of BNP strength that certain things are held to be self-evident truths:

  • Ethnic minorities can jump the queue.
  • Asylum seekers get preference in housing allocations.
  • Immigrants come to Britain specifically so that they can play the system.
  • There is a conspiracy of do-gooder leftie types to encourage all of this, because they hate the white working class.

None of this is true. To show that it isn’t true, we need to expose the facts about housing, not adapt our policy so that it solves problems that only exist in far-right fantasyland. The facts are:

  • Social housing is allocated on the basis of need, and need alone.
  • This is assessed according to a number of criteria, including household income, number of dependents, and whether any family members require care and support services.
  • If this is fair – and I think it is – the only reason why people will go without adequate housing is because of a lack of housing stock in which to house them.
  • New social housing building has effectively stalled in the last decade.
  • In many areas, “immigrants” (many of whom are actually ethnic minority Britons mistaken for immigrants) who are newcomers into social housing areas are acutually occupying former council houses that have been purchased, and then let privately.

The last point is, I think, the one which is the least-well understood, but which is the most important for understanding why so many white working class people feel like they do. But this being the case, the new government policy will be even more placebo-like in its effect in the toxic politics of race and housing.

Ultimately, the things that make people vote BNP aren’t based in nuts-and-bolts policy: they’re based (as are so many issues that arouse political passions) in the (mis)conceptions and (often irrational) feelings that surround policy areas. See these interviews with BNP voters for proof, if any were needed.

This being the case – and I’ve said it before – the best way to combat the BNP is not to try to legislate them or their issues away. In most cases this is simply foolish; in the case of housing, it’s actively harmful, and inimical to Labour values.

The sooner we realize that we have to defeat the BNP politically, the better – and that means taking the facts and the arguments to the streets. Pandering to lies just won’t do.

What we could – and should – be doing is uniting all people who are underhoused and in need of better social housing provision in a campaign to get local and central government to cough up the readies and build some, whether this means middle class people have to pay an extra £50 Council Tax each year or not.