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That which divides us – racial disparity in housing

On 10 October 2017, the government published its Race Disparity Audit, a 60-page long report on the impact of race and ethnicity on outcomes across several different sectors, promised by Theresa May in August 2016 to tackle what she called the ‘burning injustices’ that BME (Black, Minority and Ethnic) people face in British society. That the appalling Grenfell tragedy, with its particularly heavy toll on BME people, occurred in the interim means special focus should be placed on the Audit’s findings concerning ethnicity and housing outcomes.

Latest housing statistics

The report dedicates an entire chapter to housing statistics. Unsurprisingly, the report reveals serious disparities along ethnic and racial lines in a number of key areas including rates of home ownership, access to social housing, private renting, and rent levels.

Notable findings include the following:

  1. Around 2 out of every 3 White British households owned their own home either outright or with a mortgage, but only 2 out of 5 from all other ethnic groups combined.
  2. Correspondingly, nearly 60% of non-White British households rent their homes, compared to just 32% of White British households.
  3. Of the 32% of White British households that rent their home, half rent from a social landlord compared with roughly a third of the non-White British households in the rented sector. This means that proportionally, non-white households are far more likely to be renting from private landlords.
  4. Not only were BME households more likely to rent, the report found that rents were less affordable for most BME groups than for White British households. Regardless of whether they rented from a social or private landlord, BME households paid a higher proportion of their incomes on rent. This difference in affordability was found across socio-economic groups and income bands, and observed within London, the South East and the West Midlands.
  5. Of the 59,000 households accepted as statutorily homeless by local authorities in 2016/17, one in three, or 33%, were non-White households. For a sense of proportion, keep in mind that 83% of all households in England are White British.

The conclusion of these statistics is that if you are White British, you are far more likely than other groups to own your home.

If you do rent, you are proportionately more likely than other groups to rent from a social rather than a private landlord, and to pay less of your income on rent than other groups even when compared against individuals in other groups who are in your income band or your socio-economic group. Proportionally, you are also less likely to be eligible for housing assistance, as the proportion of White British households accepted as homeless by local authorities has decreased from 74% to 61%. The proportion of homeless households in BME communities has correspondingly risen.

With the highest cause of homelessness in accepted households being eviction from privately rented accommodation, it is not surprising that rising rents and eviction rates have affected this section of society, if people are more likely to rent privately.

Housing in the private sector

Landlords in the private sector have been increasing rapidly as the amount of social housing has declined over the past decades. Tenants have little security of tenure, meaning they can be evicted at any time and for no reason. The quality of private sector housing can also be very poor, with tenants scared to report disrepair to their landlord for fear of facing rent rises or eviction. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report on the link between housing and material or non-material poverty, as well as the proposals for tackling the problem in 2016.

Housing disparities

The gaping disparity in home ownership needs to be examined far more closely than it has been till now – disparity in income levels between ethnic groups pale before the disparity in wealth levels. Additionally, being raised in a home that is owned by your parents rather than in the inherently unsteady rented sector can only afford life advantages in the long run.

If this government’s commitment to social mobility is going to be more than mere rhetoric, serious attention needs to be paid to this disparity in home ownership, its root causes and the knock-on effects in perpetuating disadvantage in other areas such as education and employment. Given that a wealth of evidence (see a report by Better Housing here) shows that the austerity policies enacted by this government and the coalition government in the last seven years have disproportionately harmed BME communities, this latest audit goes some way to underline the failure of the current policies to match the stated goals of equality in the UK.

What to do? Well, the chair of BME National’s suggestion that 20% of the £2bn new investment in social housing promised by the Prime Minister be earmarked for the BME housing sector seems like a good place to start.

For the longer term, serious action in breaking the cycles of poverty is required if we are to make our society a truly fair one for people from all backgrounds.