26 Mar 2020

Housing response to coronavirus-related hate

With coronavirus cases in the UK increasing daily, housing providers are working hard to protect staff and tenants in a constantly changing situation. As Birmingham City University senior research fellow Kusminder Chahal suggests, they should also think about how they might respond to community tensions and reported hate incidents. In today’s guest blog, Kusminder offers five steps that housing providers could take to respond to hate-related incidents.

With the coronavirus outbreak officially a pandemic, the shutdown of whole countries right across the world, speculation of how many people in the UK may contract the disease and images of people panic buying in shops, all our lives have been unsettled and disrupted. Worryingly, there have been some examples of this leading to increases in community tensions and hate incidents.

Some news stories have reported that people perceived to be Chinese have faced abuse and even attacks, due to the virus originating from China. The fear and panic caused by the outbreak has unfortunately led to the simmering racism that lies just beneath the surface of everyday life to reappear, in a similar way that racist hate crimes increased during the 2016 EU referendum.

Housing providers, practitioners and leaders can respond to this fear and panic by focusing on the following five steps:
Step 1 - Recognise

As housing providers we have a moral, legal and statutory obligation to respond to hate crime and incidents. Residents and tenants will be alarmed and fearful, and some may seek to blame those defined as different. We need to be there, providing help and support where we can.

Step 2 - Respond

Some residents and tenants could develop coronavirus and need to self-isolate. Emotions may run high, so we need to help coordinate awareness with local hate-crime partners, third-party reporting schemes and residents and tenants’ groups about any community tensions and hate incidents. It could be a good idea to contact local minority ethnic communities and business owners to offer support, reassurance and information on how to report incidents.

Step 3 - React

Now is a good time for you to raise awareness and remind colleagues of your hate crime policy and tenancy agreement clauses relating to anti-social behaviour and how to deal with racist hate incidents, so we can all support victims and respond to alleged perpetrators. To protect yourself and others, you may need to change existing advice to meet the changed circumstances, for example using telephone, email, signposting to helplines and where possible virtual meetings.

Step 4 - Reassert

Take this opportunity to reassert your core values of equality, diversity and inclusion and the laws that govern behaviours in the workplace. Everyone has the right to be treated fairly, equally and with dignity, so be aware of your ‘zero-tolerance approach’ of negative and stigmatising language and views from both other colleagues and residents.

Step 5 - Reframe

Unexpected events can lead to spikes in hate crime, and the numbers do not always go back down. We may need to evaluate hate crime policies and procedures and identify new approaches to support victims, challenge perpetrators and work in local communities. To reduce the likelihood and impact of hate crime, identify a champion in your organisation who can be a point of contact for both internal and external coordination of victim support, partnership working, and communication with wider partners and communities. .

Kusminder Chahal  |  Senior Research Fellow, Birmingham City University Housing and Hate Crime Knowledge Exchange Project