Comment: Social Housing Should Play a Pivotal Role in Promoting Equality and Diversity

Article excerpt

HOUSING IS one of the most varied areas under the wide umbrella of local government. It spans a welter of different types of services, includes property that is owned by a huge variety of organisations and incorporates large segments of council services. It crosses the frontiers of social and economic policy, breaking down traditional boundaries and linking government departments and community initiatives. It also merges the public, not-for-profit and for-profit sectors in a way that applies to few other services.

By its very nature, housing must be able to welcome people with very different needs. If housing workers do not reflect the diversity of our population, then the needs of tenants can never be fully met.

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) set itself a target to increase its black and minority ethnic members by 2005, and says it has achieved this ahead of the intended deadline. While such developments are always positive, Unison is still concerned about the relatively low level of diversity in the workforce, and - as in many government departments - there remains much scope for improvement.

A number of recent initiatives have influenced the situation. For example, the 2001 Race and Housing Inquiry examined the experience of black and minority ethnic staff and tenants. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 should also have an impact. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act strengthens the 1976 Race Relations Act and covers all functions that may be carried out by public bodies, whether in the context of services delivered or in the workforce arena. Obviously, this creates opportunities both for workers and for tenants to challenge authorities if they do not respond appropriately, and the duty can be enforced. In Northern Ireland the Single Equality Bill can start to break down the high level of community segregation that exists and deal with sectarianism and tackle racially motivated intimidation and violence shown towards new migrant workers.

But there is more to it than just complying with legislative requirements. The benefits of achieving a diverse workforce offer much greater opportunities than what may be superficially visible. Tenants from black and minority ethnic communities often have particular needs or experiences, and organisations lacking in diverse perspectives and workers will struggle to become aware of these, much less to meet them. …