The government must build more affordable homes if it is to ‘level up’ the UK and tackle racial inequality, the leader of a leading BME housing association has argued.
Ali Akbor OBE, chief executive of the Leeds BME housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise, said that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the social disadvantages faced by BME people in the UK.
The CEO has urged the government to stick to its pre-election pledge of ‘levelling up’ society and eschew a return to its previous austerity programme once the lockdown has been lifted.
Speaking at a webinar on COVID-19’s housing and health implications, organised by the Housing Diversity Network and BME National, Mr Akbor said: “BME families often live in overcrowded properties and there was little new money for affordable family homes during the austerity years.
“The coronavirus outbreak has rightly led the government to find tens of billions of pounds to support businesses and workers – resources that were previously unheard of.
“But worrying times lie ahead in the UK including a recession, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already conceded will happen, and a likely surge in unemployment. Poorly paid workers, often of BME heritage, will undoubtedly be badly hit.”
The Unity chief executive’s comments come in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd in the United States.
The protests have raised awareness of the inequalities faced by BME communities such as housing, with BME neighbourhoods often suffering from high levels of social deprivation.
If previous governments had used targeted funding to address inequalities across the country, the UK would not be suffering from the same disparities today, Akbor said.
He stressed that the most deprived areas should be a funding priority for the government if it is to fix the nation’s housing inequalities.
“We need significant investment in local communities to protect those individuals and families most at risk of being left behind, socially and economically,” Akbor concluded. “This must include a commitment to place the building of many more genuinely affordable homes placed at the top of the government’s post-pandemic ‘to do’ list.
“Austerity cannot be used as an excuse for health and financial inequalities ever again. The economic recovery has to be for everyone. People of all ethnicities must feel they have a stake in the brighter future that hopefully awaits.”
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are committed to ensuring people have a safe and affordable place to live and since 2010 we have delivered over 464,500 new affordable homes.
“We are investing £12bn to build affordable homes between 2021/22 and 2025/26 – the biggest cash investment in affordable housing for a decade – and we are committed to publish a Social Housing White Paper, which will set out further measures to empower tenants, ensuring more people than ever before can access a safe, secure, affordable place to call home.”