New ethnic mixing plan could stir up tensions

Telegraph 04/11/2007


Ethnic minority families will be moved in large groups on to "unwelcoming" all-white council estates under controversial guidelines from a Government agency.

The Housing Corporation claims that Asian or black tenants may be less likely to face racism if they are transferred in numbers. eyes:

The recommendation is included in a book of guidelines for councils and housing associations on how to create racial harmony.

Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, warned last week of a public perception that "white families are cheated out of their right to social housing by newly arrived migrants". He called for an independent inquiry to establish the truth,

The new plan was criticised by politicians on all sides who claimed that it could stir up racial tensions and be exploited by the far Right.


Jon Cruddas, a Labour MP who has fought against the racist British National Party in his Dagenham constituency, said: "If there's a sense that housing allocations are being racialised, that might reinforce the message that the BNP are putting out, and lead to the perception of queue-jumping.

"I'm not sure how effective this would be in terms of diluting tensions — it might serve to do precisely the opposite."

The Housing Corporation, which hands out £2?billion a year of public money for the construction of new social housing, endorses the "group lettings" policy in a book of guidelines published this month, Community cohesion and housing — a good practice guide.

The book, published with the Chartered Institute for Housing, says that such measures may be needed "when a 'white' estate is unwelcoming to newcomers but has larger properties that should be accessible to all those in need".

The solution, it suggests, is to make an exception to the normal rules in order to ensure that "households from a particular minority move to the same area at about the same time".

The recommendation comes despite an admission by the book's authors, John Perry and Bob Blackaby, that white people already feel that housing allocation is biased against them. A Government survey in 2005 found that 21 per cent of white respondents believed they would be treated unfavourably because of their race, compared with only 13 per cent of ethnic minority respondents.

Group lettings were first proposed in the 1980s but have been tried in only a handful of areas. The backing of the Housing Corporation could make their use more widespread. Professor Ted Cantle recommended group lettings in his report on the Oldham riots in 2001, but the policy was never adopted in the town.

Rod Blyth, Liberal Democrat spokesman for community cohesion on Oldham council, said: "I think group lettings could provoke worse community relations. The far Right would certainly pick up on it and exploit it. I think people in Oldham realised after the riots that there's no quick fix."

Grant Shapps, the Conservative shadow housing minister, said: "I think we would all support the notion of mixed communities, but well-meaning attempts at social engineering often have unintended consequences and can backfire badly."

However, Prof Cantle insisted that group lettings could work so long as housing chiefs worked closely with white communities to prepare the ground.

He said: "Most of the people in these communities are reasonable, but often there's a few thug-like families who are completely unreasonable and they have to be isolated. If you try to do it without the co-operation of the community, you will just get accusations of political correctness and social engineering."

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