One in Ten State-Subsidised Homes Goes to an Immigrant Family

Steve Doughty, Daily Mail (London), July 7, 2009

Nearly 400,000 homes have gone to tenants who were born abroad, the Government’s equality watchdog has said.

One in ten state-subsidised homes is occupied by an immigrant family, according to the first estimate of the impact of immigration on social housing.

More than half of the immigrants who live in council or housing association houses and flats are in London, the report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission found.

It added that four out of ten people born abroad who live in the capital are living in subsidised housing–a figure that suggests a million people in immigrant families have found homes in social housing in London.

The report blamed Home Office decisions to house asylum seekers in empty social housing around the country for ‘fuelling misconceptions that asylum seekers are queue jumping and being allocated social housing ahead of white British applicants.’

It acknowledged that there is tension over who gets social housing in London and other cities including Birmingham.

But despite evidence of increasing anger over the allocation of housing in poorer and traditionally Labour-voting areas, the report insisted that there is no prejudice against the existing population in the decisions over who gets increasingly scarce homes.

It said the tension that has led to a growing vote for the far right British National Party in some parts of the country should be dealt with by fostering more positive attitudes to immigration and enforcing equality laws.

The conclusions will undermine Gordon Brown’s latest plans to allow local authorities to give longstanding local residents priority in the queue for homes.

The report was drawn up for the Equality Commission by the Labour think tank Institute for Public Policy Research, which has a long record of support for large-scale immigration.

The Commission’s chief, Trevor Phillips, is said to be likely to be forced out of his job this autumn.

Two years ago former minister Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking in East London, began a Labour row when she complained that migrant families were being given priority for homes over those with a ‘legitimate sense of entitlement’.

Shortly afterwards Whitehall published the first estimate of numbers of foreigners in social housing, which suggested that one in 12 people in subsidised homes are foreign citizens.

However the figures published by the Equality Commission yesterday are based on the large-scale Labour Force Survey run by the Government’s Office for National Statistics.

They count people born abroad, the measure accepted by statisticians as a better estimate of real numbers of immigrants.

The one in ten national estimate for social homes occupied by immigrants obscures much higher proportions of migrants in council and housing association property in some areas.

The report said that more than half of immigrant social tenants are in London, partly because of the high cost of renting or buying private homes.

It added: ‘The most hostile attitudes about migration and social housing allocation were evident in places where there was a high proportion of the population on social housing waiting lists and where owner occupancy was most unaffordable, for example in Barking and in Birmingham.’

Some migrant groups, the report said, were highly dependent on social housing because their families had higher numbers of children and were more likely to be without work.

They included families from Afghanistan, Somalia and Bangladesh.

However Poles and other eastern Europeans who have arrived since 2004 are less likely to occupy social homes, it found, possibly because many see themselves returning home in future rather than staying long-term in Britain.

Only 11 per cent of migrants over the last five years live in social housing, the report said.

New immigrants with the right to live in Britain have been entitled to social housing since the 70s, when waiting lists which favoured local families were abolished and replaced with systems that allocated homes on the basis of need.

Homelessness, several children, pregnancy and poverty have since been factors that automatically push people towards the head of the queue.

But Robert Whelan, housing expert at the Civitas think tank, said: ‘In some areas most units of social housing are going to immigrants, which provides fertile soil for the BNP.

‘This report does not reflect the concerns of working class people and it is extremely unhelpful at a time when the BNP is hoovering up votes.

‘It does not recognise the claims of longstanding local residents whose families have contributed to communities for generations.’

Equality Commission chairman Trevor Phillips said: ‘Much of the public concern about the impact of migration on social housing has, at its heart, the failure of social housing supply to meet the demands of the population.

‘The poorer the area, the longer the waiting lists, therefore the greater the tension.

‘Government and social housing providers need to work with the communities they serve to address these issues.’

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