On Wednesday 24 January 2024, The Guardian reported that the UK government had put forward a proposal which would give British families higher priority for social housing in a controversial scheme that will be badged as “British homes for British workers.”
The scheme has been the subject of substantial criticism with opponents within the government warning that it could fuel support for the Reform UK party, a rightwing party political party that aims to reduce immigration and advocates for policies that solely benefit British nationals. Furthermore, housing experts are warning that the scheme is likely either illegal, unworkable, or both, because any move to discriminate on the basis of nationality would certainly clash with the law.
The chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, Polly Neate, told The Guardian: “This policy amounts to nothing more than scapegoating at its worst. It is unnecessary, unenforceable and unjust. Not only does it ignore the fact that there are already stringent rules so only UK citizens or those with settled status can access homes for social rent, but it blames a group of people for a housing emergency that they did not create.”
A major concern with the bill is that it will further disenfranchise marginalised communities.
The latest government figures show that 90 per cent of the lead tenants in social housing are already British citizens. In other areas, however, where the amount of foreign nationals is higher, this figure is much lower. The Guardian reports that in the London borough of Brent, 40 per cent of new social homes were let to foreign nationals between 2021 and 2022. In the borough of Southwark it was 29 per cent.
More than one million households are currently waiting for a social home. Furthermore, the number of homeless households, with children living in poor quality temporary accommodation, is steadily increasing, all underscoring the urgency of the current housing crisis. In the years 2021 to 2022, 65 per cent of households were new to the social sector. Prior to that they had housing through the private rental sector, their own homes, or temporary accommodation.
This scheme, however, is being pushed, not to solve the crisis, but to implement a hierarchy and supports Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s reputation for being hard on immigration.
Moreover, it also promotes the horrifying idea that this crisis arose from people from other countries being given homes at the expense of the British population.
The reasons for the housing crisis are manyfold. There’s inflation, rising rents, pay freezes, and a short supply of affordable housing. This has been exacerbated by the Conservative Party failing to meet its pledge of building 200,000 starter houses, as well as Boris Johnson’s election pledge to build 300,000 new homes a year.
The result is a short supply of housing, specifically social housing, that cannot keep up with high demand as compounded crises are pushing more and more people into poverty.