The title of the 2020 Housing Law Practitioners’ Association (HLPA) annual conference, held on 10 December, was ‘Housing Inequality and Justice in the COVID-19 Era’. It included a session titled ‘No Irish, no blacks, no dogs: tackling racial discrimination in housing’. It was also in December 2020 that Awaab Ishak died, aged just two years old.
Social inequalities, including racism, are reflected in the housing sector, and the title of HLPA’s 2020 conference alluded to racial inequalities in housing from several decades ago. This problem is persistent and increasing.
In the early 21st century, Shelter published The black and minority ethnic housing crisis
(22 September 2004). It said the 2001 census recorded 7 per cent of England’s population were black and minority ethnic (BME),1The report’s terminology has been adopted here.
but in the year ending June 2004, 20 per cent of homeless households were BME. This continued a trend seen in preceding years, which showed a disproportionate increase in homelessness among the BME community. The census also showed disproportionate numbers living in poor housing conditions: 8 per cent were living in unfit homes compared with 3.5 per cent of white households. Shelter identified several causes of racial inequality in housing, including income and employment inequality, as well as highlighting discrimination and racial harassment as major causes of BME homelessness.
Housing inequality affecting minoritised ethnic communities is also reflected in those occupying unaffordable housing and insecure accommodation. A briefing by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation called What’s causing structural racism in housing?
(September 2021) contained worrying statistics. For instance, it found more than 25 per cent of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic2The report’s terminology has been adopted here.
working adults spent over a third of their income on housing compared with just over 10 per cent of white working adults. It also found that nine of the 10 most ethnically diverse English local authorities outside London had significantly higher rates of possession claims compared with the 10 least ethnically diverse local authorities.
Commenting on the 2022 report, Matt Downie, the CEO of Crisis, said:
Every day we see in our services that black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are experiencing higher rates of homelessness. But this research puts beyond doubt the reality and scale of the problem. It is horrifying that people are being exposed to harassment and abuse in the pursuit of trying to find somewhere safe and secure to live.
That quotation was published in the Guardian
: ‘Racial inequality hard-wired into housing system in England, study finds
’ (Robert Booth, 21 November 2022). The article also quoted Michael Gove, the levelling up, housing and communities secretary, as saying that Awaab Ishak’s family were ‘victims of prejudice’ when referring to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s response to their complaints regarding poor housing conditions.
On 16 November 2022, Manchester North coroner Joanne Kearsley issued her prevention of future deaths report (ref no 2022-0365
), which concluded that Awaab died as a result of a severe respiratory condition due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment. The coroner’s report was issued the day before HLPA’s 2022 annual conference.
The title of this year’s conference is ‘The Impact of Racism in Housing’. It is a hybrid conference, taking place on 14 December 2023. It will cover the usual broad range of housing-related issues, but the panel discussions and a number of the seminars will focus on different aspects of the headline topic. This will include discussing the impact of racism on allocations, housing conditions and homelessness.
The above reports and their statistics explain the causes and extent of this issue, but perhaps the most powerful illustration of the impact of racism on housing is Awaab’s story. A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities press release said in early 2023: ‘Awaab’s Law will force social landlords to fix damp and mould within strict time limits, in new amendment to the Social Housing Regulation Bill’ (‘Government to deliver Awaab’s Law
’, 9 February 2023). The relevant provisions under the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 (ss40–42) came into force on 20 September. It remains to be seen what the impact of this legislation will be, but the above data suggest that the causes of racial inequality in housing require more fundamental reform.