May 22, 2007

Anti-fascists oppose racist myths in debate on housing

Today, anti-fascist campaigners have called on politicians to refrain from adding to misinformation and hysteria on social policy issues such as housing.

Others have criticised the tone and content of the current debate that was sparked off after an article by Barking MP Margaret Hodge, suggesting that housing allocation should not be solely based on need. Critics included housing charity Shelter, Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas, Diane Abbott MP, government minister Peter Hain and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

In an article in the Observer, Margaret Hodge suggested a change in housing allocation policy that currently operates on the basis of the housing needs of the people on council housing lists, proposing the criteria to be based on "length of residence, citizenship, or National Insurance contributions."

Hodge stated that "We prioritise the needs of an individual migrant family over the entitlement others feel that they have".

There is evidence to the contrary: in an article in the Guardian today, Jon Cruddas MP for Dagenham said: 'In the six years I have been an MP (...) we have never housed an immigrant or immigrant family in local authority accommodation.'

David Woods, director of Housing at Barking and Dagenham Council is quoted in an article for 'Inside Housing' magazine on 10 May, saying: "The mythology that we're trying to fight around here is that government investment in housing is all for asylum seekers and immigrants."

Ken Livingstone warned of the possibility that the criteria Hodge outlines for housing allocation may be 'illegal' and Diane Abbott MP has tabled an Early Day Motion stating "that immigrant families do not currently get priority over British families".

A recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report into the links between poverty and ethnicity found that, on all the social indicators including housing, minority ethnic communities fare much worse than white people.

Director of Shelter the homelessness charity Adam Sampson said:
"The failure to build new homes and the devastating impact of the Right to Buy leaves the small amount of social housing stock vulnerable to being exploited for political means. These comments perpetuate the myth that social homes are given to new immigrants coming to the UK at the expense of the indigenous population - when in fact homes are allocated by balancing what people are entitled to against immediate housing need. The real problem is the desperate shortage of social housing, which is why Gordon Brown must now deliver on his commitment last week to build more social homes to tackle the ever-deepening housing crisis."

Diane Abbott MP said:
"The idea of a native-born preference for social housing is clearly discriminatory. Black and ethnic minority communities are much more likely to have arrived more recently in this country and therefore will have less chance of getting a house. Social housing should be allocated on the basis of need and nothing else. This is supposed to be a Labour government, so why are some Ministers allowing the BNP to dictate our policies?"

Denis Fernando, Joint Secretary of Unite Against Fascism said:
'The suggestion that any aspect relating to race should be introduced into the criteria for social housing must be strongly opposed as it would further disadvantage minority communities' access to housing and helps fuel the advance of the BNP. The fascist BNP is now the official opposition on Barking and Dagenham Council, with 12 councillors. It has profited from the racist myth that African families have preferential access to housing grants. The real scandal is that as the BNP targeted Barking and Dagenham for electoral gains, there was a 30% rise in racist attacks across the borough, including the near-fatal stabbing of an Afghan man immediately after the May 2006 elections. This is in stark contrast to the situation in the rest of London, where racist attacks have been falling and no such myth is being propagated."

Weyman Bennett, Joint Secretary of Unite Against Fascism said:
'The fascist BNP is crawling all over this debate which is providing it with rich pickings. The BNP flourish in a climate of racist myths against black communities, Muslims, migrants and asylum seekers. They have no interest in improving housing - their real aim is to target isolated, and marginalised communities with racism as fascist parties do in order to make gains. The fact that the BNP opposed increased social housing when it was proposed at Barking and Dagenham council exposes the reality of its fascist agenda. Today, the BNP's website is welcoming Margaret Hodge's comments. The UAF believes these comments were ill-advised and wrong."'


  • The BNP councillor in Barking and Dagenham Richard Barnbrook was on the BBC News at 10 on Monday, 'demanding' a change in housing allocation policy.
  • The BNP's general election campaign in 2005 in Barking spread the racist myth of a non existent 'Africans for Essex' scheme that the BNP claimed was providing £50,000 grants to African families to buy houses in the borough. The BNP continued to spread such lies in the borough, culminating in gaining 12 of the 13 seats they targeted in 2006.
  • The BNP website states in an article welcoming Margaret Hodge's comments: "Building more homes is not the answer - vast swathes of the English countryside cannot be simply concreted over to build more homes and all the necessary infrastructure for the UK's expanding population. Existing local residents do not want new developments on greenfield sites."
  • During the full meeting of the Barking and Dagenham Council on the 6 December, fascist BNP councillors voted against an amendment calling on the government to lift the cap restricting the ability of councils to build new housing, clearly confirming that they have no interest in housing, merely using the issue to whip up racism towards Black communities and to divide the communities of Barking and Dagenham.
  • Unite Against Fascism is a broad-based national campaign chaired by Ken Livingstone, aimed at stopping the BNP, which brings together Black, Jewish, Muslim communities and other faith representatives, lesbian and gay activists, trade unionists and MPs into an alliance with all those who are threatened by and oppose fascism.

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