LGBT and housing: There is still more to do
Policy officer John Thornhill discusses what housing organisations can do to support LGBT customers - with a particular focus on the challenges facing older LGBT men and women.Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of conversation about the rights of LGBT people, with the government’s consultation on equal marriage making headlines. Set within the broader context of equality for housing, the introduction of a more reactive approach to consumer protection by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) means there is a need for landlords to develop robust governance, accountability and scrutiny arrangements to make sure their services meet the needs and aspirations of all of their tenants in their diversity. The good news is that the UK is an increasingly diverse place to live: surveys consistently show that the UK is becoming more welcoming towards diversity and less tolerant of discrimination. But for LGBT men and women, challenges undoubtedly remain in their homes and communities. In 2007 Stonewall commissioned a poll which revealed 20 per cent of LGB people expected to be treated less favourably than a straight person when applying for social housing and 20 per cent of LGB people had been the victim of one or more hate incidents in the past three years.
I recently co-authored a blog with Tina Wathern of Stonewall Housing for the Guardian Housing Network focusing on the specific challenges faced by older LGBT men and women. Growing older can present particular challenges for LGBT men and women. Some older LGBT people may have reservations about being open about their sexual orientation and gender identities. Some older people may have been happy about being ‘out’ about being LGBT while they lived independently or with supportive peers, but may fear being ‘out’ in sheltered or supported accommodation or in situations where they receive care and support from other adults. This has led many older LGBT people to ‘go back into the closet’ in later life. A 2008 DCLG report Lifetime Homes stated that specialised housing is not always sensitive to the needs of LGBT people and the 2006 Commission for Social Care Inspection report found that only 9 per cent of social care providers in their sample had carried out specific work to promote equality to LGB people and only 2 per cent for trans people.
Housing can play a crucial role in helping to achieve better outcomes for older LGBT men and women. Housing providers can exercise an influential role in communities challenging prejudice and combating discrimination. They have an influential and long-term stake in the local communities which they serve and can foster good relations between different groups of people. Despite some great progress across the sector in relation to LGBT equality, it is clear that the housing sector needs to better understand the needs of older LGBT people – and a lack of information makes this challenging. I would advocate a new approach, which should be adopted by all housing organisations based on a genuine commitment to understanding tenants and service users in their diversity, sound and well reasoned customer profiling, strong relationships with community partners and community advocates and the delivery of responsive customer services to customers in their diversity. We can only do this by being accountable to our tenants, and by ensuring that they are fully engaged in ensuring the quality of the services we deliver.
There are several housing organisations that are already embracing equality and diversity and doing great work in terms of providing support to LGBT customers – many of them are profiled in our recent practice brief, Delivering housing services to lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender customers. The brief provides guidance and advice on how to ensure your organisation is inclusive, for both staff and customers, and how to ensure we both recognise and celebrate LGBT diversity in our homes and communities.