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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

How can housing organisations respond to Louise Casey’s review into integration?


As Dame Louise Casey's independent review into opportunity and integration reveals the challenges facing the UK CIH's senior policy advisor John Perry asks how housing organisations can contribute.

Louise Casey asks some uncomfortable questions about Britain’s failure to integrate newcomers to the country.

She’s not the first to have done so, but has produced the latest in a succession of reports that began with Ted Cantle’s inquiry into the riots that shook northern cities in 2001.

Fifteen years on and we’ve seen the focus of tension switch from established BME communities to newcomers, after more than a decade of higher UK migration levels.

We’ve also seen an upsurge in hate crime apparently related to June’s EU referendum – a further reminder that if lessons were learnt after 2001 then there must be new lessons to learn now. What might these be and how can housing organisations contribute to better integration?

One of the most difficult issues about racial discrimination is that its effects are local and personal, but the causes may not be. If you’re a Muslim woman insulted on a bus or a Polish worker attacked in the street, most likely you’re the victim of a crime committed by someone you didn’t know who’s simply responded to your appearance or accent.

The effects are immediate, but how do we identify and respond to the causes? The attacker might feel justified (however wrongly) because of a particular event, like a terrorist attack. Or they may be responding to a general climate of questioning the rights of those not born in the UK, whether it’s an incendiary headline in a tabloid newspaper or the Home Office’s ‘Go home’ vans.

Social landlords can do little to influence national policies or media stories: what they can do, however, is help to overcome their effects at local level. Indeed, because discrimination is such a highly personal experience for both victim and perpetrator, the biggest test of Casey’s review will be whether it leads to sufficient action at the grassroots, where the problems occur.

Fortunately, social landlords have plenty to offer, for several reasons. They may well be among the strongest organisations in the neighbourhoods where they work. Their tenants want to live in a decent place which is free of tensions and of course landlords want to maintain the value and attractiveness of their stock. They have advantages such as a solid business base and a secure income from rents. Of course, there is enormous pressure on these resources, but landlords can still do things where the rest of the public sector now struggles.

There are also plenty of examples of social landlords – and their tenants – responding to change at neighbourhood level and even to racist incidents. Our new sector showcase has some recent examples, and there are plenty more in earlier CIH publications – CIH has been actively promoting better practice in this field since those 2001 riots.

The best projects have built on action taken by tenants themselves – the lady in Sunderland who began to welcome new asylum seekers, the community leader in Leicester who realised her estate needed newcomers to keep it alive, the tenants of a Protestant estate in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, who wanted to welcome Polish newcomers, or the man who saw a Muslim woman insulted in Dudley, and whose response led to the town’s ‘5 Estates’ project.

Some of the projects that grew from the increase in migration from Eastern Europe after 2004 were supported by the Migration Impact Fund, but this was ended in 2010.

Fortunately, the new government has realised that central funding is vital to help get initiatives off the ground, and has just launched its ‘Controlling Migration’ fund. Despite the title, there will be £25 million per year for local initiatives to help integrate migrants providing that the funding also benefits existing residents (as the best schemes should do anyway). It’s not a huge sum, but it’s a start.

So what should housing organisations do? First, understand their local areas. Methods tried elsewhere may or may not work. Build up your ground knowledge before you start – by talking to tenants and – if they aren’t tenants – to migrant groups. Then, get stuck in. There are plenty of examples from elsewhere and your local contacts will generate more ideas.

Make sure anything you do benefits a wide range of people. Bringing people together to determine priorities and jointly develop initiatives can be a success – even where groups have been keeping apart from each other.

Don’t work in isolation. Any deprived neighbourhood has a range of agencies and probably community-based groups working in it. Find out what is already happening and try to build on it.

Find ways to identify and support new arrivals. Recognise that they may well be very isolated, particularly non-English speakers and women. Devise ways to help. Taff HA in Wales, for example, has organised English language classes for refugees.

Basic neighbourhood management is also key. Little will be achieved if neighbourhoods have ‘crime and grime’ problems - make an early impact by tackling them.

Time is needed. It takes time to achieve results, especially with migrant communities who are often preoccupied with issues like jobs and immigration status. Tackling tensions and building trust and interaction can’t be done quickly.

Getting actively engaged is going to need resources – whether staff time, use of premises out of hours, or money to support projects. The new government fund might help. But don’t let this hold you up – if you can show that you’ve already started work you may find it easier to get outside support. But in any case, isn’t working in and helping to achieve integrated, sustainable communities already part of your organisation’s mission and therefore its mainstream work? And if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?

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