Last week the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced plans to limit the availability of social housing for non-EU immigrants. We have been led to believe that local English-born citizens are being denied housing because immigrants are ‘jumping the housing waiting list’.
The reality, though, is much different. The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has reported that just 9% of social lettings were to non-UK born households. Yet in 2011, 13% of the population of England were born overseas. That means immigrants are less likely to secure social housing than the rest of the population.
Most local authorities have local connection policies. It is very unlikely that those new to an area, including those from elsewhere in England, will get social housing. There are no figures showing the number of overseas-born households getting social housing within two years of arriving in England. But according to Inside Housing, anecdotal evidence from social landlords “suggests that the figure is close to zero”.
Yet in spite of the facts, there is a perception that “the indigenous community” is being squeezed out of housing by incomers. There are anecdotes about newly arrived households moving into social housing and, for some in the media, anecdote is more compelling that fact.
But there is some basis for these anecdotes: the illegal sub-letting properties, and the right to buy.
There are believed to be 160,000 social tenancies that are illegally sub-let. Those in most need can include newly arrived households who are exploited and required to pay rents well above those being paid by the social housing tenants to their landlords. It is understandable that neighbours, whose own family members might be on the waiting list, conclude that a newly arrived household have secured social housing when the reality is that they are being exploited, with no rights and paying the highest rents.
One in three properties sold through right to buy are now being let within the private rented sector, yielding rents far in excess of those previously paid to social landlords. (There are clear lessons to be learned here regarding the increasing housing benefit bill). Again neighbours might conclude that their family member has again been disadvantaged, believing that the flat next door has been let through the local authority to newly arrived landlords when it has, in fact, been transferred to the private rented sector.
The only beneficiaries of this situation are those who are exploiting housing need (including those illegally sub-letting social housing) and the far right who seek to ferment racial discord, often in areas with a mix of high cost housing, housing shortage, and large immigrant communities.
I think politicians should be very cautious before they make pronouncements that are not based on facts on an incredibly emotive subject.