Black History Month: Housing inequality still plagues BME communities

Homelessness, fuel poverty and overcrowding still hit BME people hardest


To be black in Britain today is still to know greater disadvantage than your white neighbours.

Forty years on from the Race Relations Act 1976, black and minority ethnic (BME) groups remain more likely to occupy the worst housing, to be overcrowded, to suffer fuel poverty, to live in the most deprived neighbourhoods, to have fewer assets, and to earn lower incomes than white people.

Ethnic disparities in housing reflect wider inequalities, especially those associated with earnings gaps, unequal job opportunities and variable life chances. Yet BME people are at least three times more likely to endure housing deprivation, even taking these wider issues into account.

New research released during Black History Month shows that BME people:

  • Are less likely to be home owners (at 46 per cent compared with 67 per cent for white people) and less likely to be outright home owners (at 15 per cent compared to 33 per cent of whites). This has knock-on effects to wealth inequalities.
  • Are far more likely to live in older, fuel poor and overcrowded housing, and in flats and terraced homes, rather than detached or semi-detached homes.
  • Are over-concentrated in the most deprived neighbourhoods and worst living environments – BME people are three times more likely than white people to live in the worst 10 per cent of 33,000 neighbourhoods across England.
  • Account for more than one in three homeless acceptances by local authorities in England, despite representing just one in seven of the overall population. Homelessness has grown for BME groups from 17 per cent to 37 per cent over the last decade.
  • Receive fewer lettings from the social housing sector (including both local authorities and housing associations) than their presence in the population and their much higher level of need would suggest.
  • Are almost twice as likely to live in poverty then white people (36 per cent to 19 per cent). The poverty rate for people of African and Caribbean origins has risen from 36 per cent to 40 per cent since 2002.
  • Earn average wages ranging from about 90 per cent to 50 per cent of those of whites depending on BME group.
  • Are likely to have less wealth than white people: this ranges from households of Indian origin who have average wealth equivalent to 92 per cent that of white households, to Bangladeshi households who have just 15 per cent.

Forty years of struggle by BME groups to achieve equality, supported by a range of legislation and statutory codes of practice in housing and other policy areas, has seen some improvements.

No longer are BME people confronted by the ‘no Irish, no Blacks, no Dogs’ signs in the Rachman end of the private rented market. However, their disadvantage in tenure, wealth and earnings, coupled to more extensive housing deprivation, has damaging effects on their quality of life and life chances.

A lack of political commitment today, especially in the wake of Brexit and given the toxicity of immigration discourse, signals many more years of struggle by BME communities to acquire parity in public life.

Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, writing in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @kevingulliver

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