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JRF highlights “shameful” racial disparities in housing system

Jessica Bird

September 14, 2021

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Welfare and immigration policies are contributing to unequal access to affordable housing among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, according to a report from the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

A quarter of BAME workers, excluding Indian workers, are paying housing costs that are unaffordable (25%), compared with 10% of white workers.

Two in 10 BAME households across the UK live in unaffordable housing, double the national average for white households.

Nearly four in 10 BAME workers whose characteristics mean they are likely to be subject to ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) are paying unaffordable housing costs, compared to one in 10 White workers.

Ethnically diverse local authorities in England are more likely to have a significantly higher rate of eviction possession claims than the least diverse areas, likely driven by a range of labour and housing market factors.

The benefit cap – a limit on the income a household can access from the social security system – disproportionately limit the incomes of BAME families. Eight in 20 households affected by the benefit cap in England are BAME, although they only make up three in 20 of the population.

As the cap limits household income, JRF noted that it makes it more difficult for many families to meet their housing costs. Given the number of households affected by the cap doubled from February to August 2020 this is likely to have contributed to worse income inequality for people from BAME backgrounds during the pandemic.

The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy bars people with temporary immigration status from accessing the social security system. JRF’s analysis shows that BAME workers in lower paid occupations in London and likely subject to NRPF are three times as likely to be living in unaffordable housing, at risk of poverty and homelessness, compared to white workers.

45% of working BAME adults likely subject to NRPF are in poverty, more than double the proportion of working White adults (19%).

BAME workers in the lowest paid occupations are 12% more likely to face unaffordable housing costs than white workers in the same occupations.

JRF noted evidence that landlords avoid tenants they perceive to be ‘foreign’ and misinterpret immigration legislation when carrying out checks. All but one of the 10 most ethnically diverse local authorities in England outside London had a significantly higher rate of eviction possession claims than the 10 least diverse.

Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black communities were found to be disproportionately likely to be on low incomes. Just under one in five Bangladeshi workers and over one in 10 Pakistani workers were paid below the national minimum wage compared to three in 100 white workers.

BAME households were also less likely to be able to access or inherit family wealth to buy a home. While 68% of white British households were homeowners, only 20% of black African households, 40% of black Caribbean households, 46% of Bangladeshi households and 58% of Pakistani households were.

These groups were more likely to rely on the more expensive private rented sector (PRS), in housing that is unaffordable relative to their income. JRF explained that living in unaffordable housing – commonly defined as spending more than 30% of income on housing – on a low income leaves people at risk of missing rent payments and facing eviction.

People from BAME backgrounds were more than twice as likely to experience homelessness compared to the national average in England and Wales.

Khem Rogaly, one of the report’s authors, said: “Our research lays bare the shameful reality that people from ethnic minority communities are much more likely to be living in unaffordable housing that has a detrimental impact on their living standards.

“UK welfare and immigration policies are disproportionately limiting the incomes of BAME people, restricting their access to affordable housing, while Right to Rent policy is in some cases driving direct discrimination against certain groups.”

Darren Baxter, policy and partnerships manager at JRF, said: “These injustices are not inevitable, but they have wide foundations in our economy, society and legislation.

“To tackle them, the government must accept responsibility for the consequences of its decisions.

“Policies which have such a disproportionate impact, and that lead in some cases to destitution and homelessness, must be revisited.

“If we do not look closely at the systems which are holding people back, we will only continue to see evidence of shocking racial inequalities in our society.”


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