BAME homelessness matters and is disproportionately rising – time for the government to act

Yesterday’s government Race Disparity Audit highlights the disparity among homeless households.  But this isn’t inevitable and its high time it was addressed.  Ending the freeze to local housing allowance would be a very good start.

The government’s Ethnicity Facts and Figures website, launched yesterday, tells us nothing new about race and homelessness.  The data was already there.  But it provides a focus to ask why race is still affecting people’s housing options in 21st century England.

Let’s face the facts:

  • One in three homeless households aren’t white, compared to around one in seven in the general population.
  • In the last five years, there was a 22% increase in statutory homelessness. Among white households it rose 9%, whereas homelessness among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) households rose 48%.
  • Within this, there were further disparities. Homelessness among black households was up 42%, Chinese and others up 35% and mixed-race households up 33% – all disproportionate rises.  Homelessness among Asian households, though, rose by 71%.

A report published last year concluded that ‘four decades of struggle by black and minority ethnic communities, bolstered by legislation, statutory and regulatory codes from the 1960s onwards, have failed to confront adequately and systematically racial disadvantage and discrimination in housing’.

So why is this happening?

Causes of BAME homelessness

As this article highlights, BAME households now face an uphill struggle to own their own homes.  While home ownership rates have fallen across the population, there have been bigger drops among black and Asian households.  The chronic lack of social housing means they, like others in this position, must turn to the private rental market.

As our recent briefing suggests, there is no doubt that racial prejudice within the lettings market is likely to be a factor.  Private landlords are able to cherry-pick who they let to and our research shows that a high proportion (40% of those making some letting decisions) admit that it is ‘natural for prejudices and stereotypes to come into letting decisions’.

Racial and religious discrimination is, of course, unlawful but difficult to prove if you’re simply told that a letting is no longer available.

We’ve previously blogged to warn that the government’s introduction of Right to Rent checks, which criminalise landlords who let to people without regularised immigration status, is likely to lead to landlords being wary of letting to anyone who they might perceive as an immigrant.  This might be because of their race, name or accent, especially if they are among the 14% of English people without a passport.

Our research found that 44% of landlords making letting decisions said that Right to Rent checks would make them less likely to let to people ‘who appear to be/ they perceive to be immigrants’, with a similar proportion saying they will be less likely to let to people without British passports.

Wider housing affordability

But there is also no doubt that BAME families are disproportionately affected by housing affordability problems as result of the growing disparity between their family income and private rents.  In fact, yesterday’s government report  concludes that rents were less affordable for most ethnic minority groups than for white British households.

Last year’s race and housing report concluded that black and minority ethnic (BME) households, on average, have lower incomes than their white counterparts, with the poverty rate almost twice that for white households, and welfare reforms exacerbating poverty for BME groups since they are disproportionately affected.

There’s very likely to be racial disparity in the impact of the four-year freeze to local housing allowance.  The freeze, as this article shows, is putting one million households at risk of homelessness by 2020.  The Department for Work and Pensions’ impact assessment of the benefit rate freeze suggested that black households were most likely to be affected, with Asian and other minority ethnic households likely to see the highest notional losses.

So what can be done?

Fixing the crisis

If the Prime Minister is serious about addressing our BAME homelessness crisis, there is a quick fix that could make a real difference in making private rentals accessible and affordable to struggling BAME families at risk of homelessness.

End the freeze on local housing allowance in next month’s Budget.

Please sign our petition to make this happen.  Your voice will make a difference.