Housing crisis hits minority ethnic families hardest

In the last two issues of FRFI we reported on how the government’s war on council housing is attacking the basic right of working class people to affordable and secure housing. The Labour government is refusing to allow local authorities to invest directly in council homes, despite this being the democratic choice of many communities, and is using blackmail and dirty tricks to force through its ideological commitment to privatisation.

Black and minority ethnic people are at the frontline of this war. The 2001 census revealed that black and minority ethnic households make up 7% of England’s population. In the year ending June 2004 such households accounted for 20% of those accepted as homeless by local authorities. Black African/Caribbean households make up 10% of homeless acceptances despite accounting for only 2% of England’s population. They also represent just under half (45%) of all black and minority ethnic homeless households (Shelter, The black and minority ethnic housing crisis, September 2004)

Between April 1997 and March 2004, total homeless acceptances by English local authorities have increased by 34%. However, in the same period, homelessness amongst non-white households rose by 77%. Black and minority ethnic families are also more likely to live in poor housing, with 8% living in accommodation that is deemed to be unfit, compared to 3.5% of white households. Over 9% of Asian people live in unfit housing.

Almost one in 10 households living in social housing in London is now overcrowded, an increase of 35% since 1991 (London housing briefing March 2004, Overcrowding in London). Nearly a third of all London’s children live in overcrowded homes due to a massive shortage of affordable housing, especially homes for larger families. The stock of social housing in London fell by 50,000 between 1991 and 2002, a direct result of the devastation of council housing by successive Labour and Tory governments.

135 years ago Frederick Engels said ‘One thing is certain: there is already a sufficient quantity of houses in the big cities to remedy immediately all real “housing shortage”, provided they are used judiciously. This can naturally only occur through the expropriation of the present owners by quartering in their houses the homeless workers or workers overcrowded in their present homes’.
According to the independent campaigning charity the Empty Homes Agency, there were 689,675 empty properties in England in 2004. 100,000 of these were in London.

Overcrowding is most severe amongst black and minority ethnic households and one-parent families (London Housing briefing, October 2004). 46% of black African and 53% of Bangladeshi households live in overcrowded housing (Census data 2001). In London, Tower Hamlets, Ealing and Newham have the worst overcrowding. Tower Hamlets has the worst record in London and England as a whole, with 64% of Bangladeshi households living in overcrowded conditions. On average, black and minority ethnic households in England are seven times more likely to live in overcrowded conditions than white households. (Shelter, September 2004)

Living in overcrowded accommodation is debilitating and has an impact on both health and educational attainment. The increase in overcrowding has been mirrored by the rise in tuberculosis infections that began to rise in the 1980s after 40 years of decline. Research shows a strong link between low educational attainment and overcrowded or poor housing conditions.

According to housing law rules laid down in 1935, a child aged 1 to 10 counts as half a person and a baby counts for nothing. A living room counts as a bedroom. Overcrowding forces young people to hang out on the streets because there is nowhere for them at home; adolescent girls have to share rooms with male siblings. It is obvious that having no opportunity to study or read in a quiet and undisturbed environment affects a child’s learning and personal development – and it is children from black and minority ethnic communities who are bearing the brunt of the crisis. m
Barnaby Mitchel

FRFI 184 April / May 2005


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