The housing sector has been discussing race and equality. Rohini Sharma Joshi considers the steps needed to turn talk into effective action
Back in November 2018, I put forward my recommendations for improving race equality in housing. After consideration by Scotland’s Joint Housing Policy and Delivery Group, these were given the green light and led to several important steps being taken to advance race equality in Scottish housing.
A follow-up event to discuss the way forward took place in February this year, attended by some members of the group. The event was held to facilitate the development of an action plan to include Gypsy and Traveller communities, discuss how to improve BME employment in housing, and ultimately find practical solutions that could be implemented as part of the Scottish Government’s commitments in the Race Equality Action plan 2017-2021.
“One mother travelled more than an hour to take her child to a school where he was supported, because she could not get a house in the area near the school”
This plan was the platform for my initial involvement and paper in November 2018, and makes specific recommendations for the housing sector. It also considers the Race Equality Framework 2016-2030.
I arranged for delegates at the event to hear directly from people who had been adversely affected by the housing system.
Three people recounted their experiences of dealing with the barriers in the system and the overwhelming unavailability of housing that meets their needs. They highlighted how they live in fear of racism and harassment and will not go out much – definitely not after dark.
One mother travelled more than an hour to take her child to a school where he was supported, because she could not get a house in the area near the school. The family did not understand the system and whilst the community support worker was providing language support and making contact with the housing officials, the system did not consider them as being in need, as they were already living in a house.
“Even when the housing system’s procedures seem to be fair and officials are following the guidelines, often they become detached from the real human needs at the heart of the situation”
This story so clearly illustrates that even when the housing system’s procedures seem to be fair and officials are following the guidelines, often they become detached from the real human needs at the heart of the situation. For housing to deliver for those who are most vulnerable and who have different and additional needs, it has to find ways of putting people rather than procedure at the centre of the system.
The government’s frameworks are, without doubt, helpful. I have seen that there has been a shift in thinking, with equality being considered an important part in the delivery of all strategies and policies. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BME communities has been recognised and groups have been established to look at this.
There is acknowledgement and there is recognition – but what is needed is action. Setting up groups to learn from experiences and gathering information will not make a difference unless steps are taken to channel that knowledge into real work that can start to deliver tangible and meaningful results.
Statements that “we need to do more” should be used not to buy time but to find real solutions and to work with those who have expertise and knowledge and understand the needs of BME communities. Organisations must work in partnership with grassroots community groups, to learn from them and to develop new approaches.
We need to stop trying to find solutions to all issues at one time or we’ll find ourselves in a state of “paralysis by analysis”. We need to make things happen right now. We may not get it completely right first time, but we can fine-tune, employing as we do a consistent approach and a real appetite to learn to get it right.
“Quality housing only works when it meets the needs of those who face multiple barriers, do not understand the system, or are stranded in dire situations without fully understanding their options, rights or entitlements”
I have been encouraged with the recent surge in commitment to equality and an impression that officials are genuinely keen to make a difference. However, I hope the determination does not get watered down or lost in the actual, on the ground implementation. Quality housing only works when it meets the needs of those who face multiple barriers, do not understand the system, or are stranded in dire situations without fully understanding their options, rights or entitlements.
There is a small move in a right direction, but it is slow and progress is insignificant for those who are suffering. More needs to be done to make a real difference.
So, the question is: are we moving on?
The answer has to be: only if we are moving from a ‘wish list’ to making real, tangible change.
Rohini Sharma Joshi, equality, diversity and inclusion manager, Trust Housing Association