The Prime Minister’s proposals to reform council housing tenure, which would end contracts that give families a “home for life” and review tenancies every five years, are likely to disproportionately affect impoverished BME communities.
At a question and answer session held at the Institution of Engineering and Technology in Birmingham, David Cameron said:
“At the moment we have a system very much where, if you get a council house or an affordable house, it is yours forever and in some cases people actually hand them down to their children.
“There is a question mark about whether, in future, should we be asking, actually, when you are given a council home, is it for fixed period, because maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a different job and be better paid and you won’t need that home, you will be able to go into the private sector.” he said.
According to the Continuous Recording of Lettings and Sales (CORE) which has gathered information from up to 94% of local authorities in the UK, at least 14% of general or supported council lettings were taken up by BME tenants between 2005 and 2009.
These figures, which do not take account of BME families living in housing association accommodation with local authority funding, indicate that the BME populace is 40 per cent more likely to need council housing.
Housing minister Grant Shapps has indicated the measures would only apply to new and not existing tenants, so any effects of the reform could take decades to produce tangible results.
CORE also reported that for the period 2008-2009; at least 59 per cent of (56,250 out of 95,531) new local authority lettings were taken up by people who were unemployed. The National Equality panel highlight that nearly all BME groups are less likely to be in employment than white British and for some BME groups, the differences in unemployment rate are as high for the second generation as those born outside the UK.
According to the Office for National Statistics, to the end of 2009, the unemployment rate for BMEs stood at 40.4 per cent compared to 25.7 per cent of the white UK population. Last July, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) forecast that total UK unemployment will peak at 3 million by 2012, 9.5% of the workforce, before falling back to 8% in 2015.
The prime minister’s comments follow an overcrowding pamphlet ‘Room to Move’ published jointly by Conservative-led City of Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU). It recommended that: “Local authorities should be empowered to create a mixed economy of tenure to increase the range of options for families,” which in effect advocates councils deciding who should and should not be allowed to remain in their homes and how long for.
Inside Housing magazine reported today, (13 Aug) that Conservative Party officials held pre-election meetings with key housing figures about its plans to remove security of tenure from future social housing tenants despite the party publicly insisting that it had no plans to change tenancy arrangements for future or existing social tenants.
In a blog for Inside Housing magazine, Arhag Housing Association chief executive, Sheron Carter said:
“…It is more likely that Black and minority ethnic communities may end up bearing the brunt of this new age of austerity. The proposed housing benefit cuts provide even more bad news for BME communities. Amongst the out-of-work, BME people are twice as likely to be unemployed, which means the housing benefit cuts will disproportionately affect these groups.”
Deputy Liberal Democrat leader, Simon Hughes led a furious backlash against the Prime Minister’s plans to force families to move out of council housing if they get a job or earn more.
“We will not let anybody have their homes taken away. We must continue to support established and cohesive communities where people have the security of knowing that they will continue to have a home. The ideas put forward by David Cameron in no way represent the policy of the coalition.” He said.
Charity Shelter, accusing the prime minister of being out of touch, has claimed that the biggest issue in housing policy is a lack of affordable housing, not security of tenure for new tenants.
Shelter director of communications, policy and campaigns Kay Boycott argued that the move could threaten the livelihoods of “the poorest and most vulnerable in our society”.
Conservative MEP Roger Helmer feels that council tenancy is a ‘ball-and-chain’ on labour mobility and has two effects. He said:
“First, even if they become much better off, and would no longer meet the criteria for social housing, they get to keep the house indefinitely while the rest of us keep paying for it. We all hear of council houses with multiple wage-earners who could well afford to move to the private sector. They become “bed-blockers”, denying homes to those on the waiting list who actually merit subsidised housing. Secondly, council house tenure is inimical to labour mobility, and therefore a huge drag on our economy.. This surely must be a significant factor in our unemployment problem.”
By Davina Kirwan