The review by David Lammy of the UK’s criminal justice system, the report by the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on Social Integration on the integration of new migrants, and a range of new evidence on employment have underscored how far the UK still has to go to offer full equality on the grounds of ‘race’. Mr Lammy’s review confirmed the long observed inequalities in how black and minority ethnic (BME) citizens fare under our nation’s policing and sentencing practices. For example, the proportion of BME young offenders in custody rose from 25% to 41% between 2006 and 2016, despite the overall number of young offenders falling to record lows.
The APPG on Social Integration, chaired by Chuka Umunna, recognised a “rising concern about anti-immigrant sentiment and the demonisation of newcomers”. It further remarked that, following the Brexit vote, there has been a striking increase in racist abuse and hate crime directed at both new migrants and settled BME communities.
And new research by The Guardian and Operation Black Vote – as part of its Inequality Project – has recorded the under-representation of BME people in the UK’s power structure. The research has revealed that the UK’s top 1,000 organisations have just 3.5% BME people in senior positions in contrast to more than 17% of the total population. The Guardian research has shown how many BME people in major organisations are over-qualified for their roles compared with their white counterparts, who are more likely to climb the career ladder. It concludes that BME talent “is not necessarily lacking in abundance, but it is seriously lacking in support”.
This is confirmed by a 2014 study by the University of Manchester that showed higher levels of qualification of BME adults when compared with their white peers, although the generally ‘younger’ age profile of the BME population partly accounts for this. The study concluded that this educational shift has failed to translate into the workplace, with BME people more likely to be left in low-paid jobs. While the employment picture in social housing is not as bleak – the 2015 Chartered Institute of Housing’s (CIH) Presidential Commission on leading diversity showed that 11% of CIH members and 7% of housing’s leaders are from BME backgrounds. There remains much to be done.
One of the great achievements of BME housing organisations, as the report by the Human City Institute from last year pointed up, is their ability to recognise talent, nurture BME staff and help advance their rise to the highest levels within BME housing organisations. Historically, this has provided the wider housing sector with a wealth of talent in terms of staff, senior managers and board members.
The BME housing sector has long shown that diversity is crucial for creating successful, thriving community businesses. After all, championing equality and diversity enables social housing greater access to innovation and new ways of working. It also recognises the changing nature of our economy and society. This is more important in social housing since one in five tenants are from a BME background, and in many of our major conurbations where the majority of social housing is located, the BME population represent more than one in three households.
And it cannot be stressed often enough that BME communities bear the brunt of housing deprivation – especially poor and overcrowded housing – are more likely to become homeless, have far less housing wealth than white people, and more frequently live in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Today, social housing helps to rectify such disadvantages which have deep roots going back to the early days of migration to the UK from the West Indies, Asia and Africa, and have yet to be full dismantled.
On control of social landlords by board and senior staff, the CIH’s Presidential Commission established a number of challenges for the social housing sector. To be achieved by 2020, these included challenging all employer and external agencies responsible for recruitment to ensure that all shortlists include qualified candidates from under-represented groups. Alongside, the commission recommended an aspirational target for board recruitment from these groups.
Publication of ‘diversity data’ on the composition of the boards, executive teams and total workforce of social landlords was advocated, too – to be presented annually. Identifying and providing mentoring and coaching opportunities for staff and board members from under-represented groups was also on high on the list of challenges set.
Rising to these challenges is good business sense for social housing and promotes value for money, as well as dovetailing with the fair housing approach supported by BME National. Improving equality and diversity across social housing fits not only with our historic social purpose but sets us apart as a modern, fair and committed sector for all communities.
Cym D’Souza, chief executive, Arawak Walton Housing Association, and chair, BME National.