Housing and migration- following up the guide

Last year, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) released a guide to assist social providers in their work with migrants.

Here CIH policy adviser and HACT associate, John Perry, investigates what effect the work had on the sector:

Last July, CIH published – for the Housing and Migration Network – a UK guide to issues and solutions


It’s always good to see if guidance actually works, so I’ve been collecting a few examples since then of what housing professionals have been doing in this field.

In the case of working with migrants, one criticism made in the guide was that many social landlords fail to engage with the issues. Is there any evidence that this is changing?

Let’s start with the best news first. Wolverhampton Homes decided to use the guide systematically to review their policy positions and work with migrants, creating an action plan based on its recommendations.

They’re at an early stage, but Shabir Hussain their Diversity Officer describes the guide as a ‘valuable tool’ to get them going. They’ve started to consult local migrant support groups on the review (one of the points emphasised in the guide). This is very much work in progress, but as the guide is intended to cover systematically (if briefly) the whole range of issues about housing for services for migrants, it should make a good basis for Wolverhampton to use.

One of the founders of the Housing and Migration Network was the Metropolitan Migration Foundation, and two of the follow-up projects they are supporting develop key themes from the Network’s guide.  The first, being run by HACT and OCSI, is called Population Insight. This is a free service for housing providers, enabling them to use 2011 Census data to drill down into local information on who lives in the neighbourhoods where they work, how big a factor migration is and where migrants come from. Population Insight will be a great tool to help landlords better understand their customer base.

The Foundation’s second follow-up project is being run by Praxis. They are setting up a unit to provide accommodation for destitute migrants in London, using property supplied by social landlords and similar to Birmingham’s Hope project (which featured in the Network’s guide). The Praxis project will provide an advocacy element – for example it will convene a new forum focusing on destitution in the capital.

Salix Homes aims to improve the access of ‘hard to reach’ groups to its services. This led to collaboration with the Salford Forum for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Separately, it led to the setting up of a Disability Focus Group two years ago. Both groups had misconceptions and were apprehensive about working together. Salix talked to the groups and came up with the idea of making a film that would give them the opportunity to talk about differences as well as get to know each other better.

Filming went really well, if at first with some difficulty, over the course of four workshops. After the first, the groups got on so well they decided to plan a joint diversity event as part of Refugee Week in 2011. The film was premiered at the event. They now meet as one forum and friendships have developed as a result. They work together on different projects including refugee week and black history month celebrations. Salix’s Debbie Broadhurst said: “this is good as customers sometimes think that refugee week is for refugees only and now we have lots of customers attending the events and learning about each other.”

In Coventry, Whitefriars aims to identify new communities, assess the impact on neighbourhoods and work in partnership with other services to promote integration. This led them to work with the Roma community (mainly from Bulgaria and Romania), thought to number up to 3,000 people. Voluntary organisations told Whitefriars of the pressures put on their services because of both the community’s language difficulties and the complications of the immigration status.

As a result, Whitefriars held advice sessions on a range of issues, attended by over 60 Roma people. The hope is that these become a permanent link into the Roma community to help improve their access to services.

Whitefriars’ parent body, WM Housing Group has developed a cultural awareness training package – ‘My Culture, Your Culture’ – which has been delivered to over 200 front-line staff. Residents from a range of new communities in Coventry talk on film about why they came to the UK, how they arrived here, how they celebrated their religion/culture originally and how they celebrate it now. They also talk about what staff can expect and need to take into account when they have contact with them.

WM’s Ravinder Kaur says “we are working towards integrating our new communities better into our neighbourhoods and also equipping our staff to engage more effectively with these new residents”.

These examples all show what housing providers can do and – even better – that some at least are doing it, often in innovative ways. CIH would be happy to see details of other examples of this kind of work.

This article first appeared in the opion blog for 24dash.com

Sense and census necessity

John Perry

As a wealth of data continues to pour out from the 2011 census, we need to remind ourselves how valuable it is. Government suggestions that this census might be the last one are nonsensical and should be resisted.

Not long after the last census took place, stories began to emerge that the government believed that the £500 million cost simply wasn’t worth it. It was even suggested that the 2021 census could be replaced by scrutiny of supermarket store cards. Government was later reported to be looking for ‘more effective, less bureaucratic’ ways of collecting data. These moves were announced before the detailed results even began to emerge. Will the obvious usefulness of the data now being released help to change their minds?

Local government had reason to be sceptical about the census in the wake of the 2001 results. In that year, it under-counted the population and under-represented immigration. As the census coincided with a surge of new migration, councils quickly got frustrated that their pleas for extra help to provide services to growing populations fell on deaf ears: old data were constantly cited by government as grounds for maintaining the status quo.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) seems to have learnt its lessons. The 2011 data came out quickly, the coverage of the latest census is extraordinarily high and the results flesh out in great detail the trends that we’ve known about more generally from other surveys. Most important of all, whereas sources like the International Passenger Survey log inward and outward movements of people on a regular basis for the UK as a whole, the census tells us exactly where they come from and go to, which is the information that local service providers need.

Here’s an example of how the data can be used. HACT and OCSI have developed a free resource for housing providers, called Population Insight. It takes highly detailed data on diverse communities and immigration and provides it in a form that housing providers can tailor to show the detail for local areas or even particular streets. For example, one of the headline changes across Britain has been the growth in the foreign-born population from seven per cent in 2001 to 13 per cent in 2011. But some places are hardly touched by immigration while others have been transformed. Take Boston in Lincolnshire: it was 98 per cent ‘white British’ in 2001 but now over ten per cent of the population is Polish. The council and social landlords in Boston need to know where the Polish and other incomers actually live, and whether their representation in the housing stock is typical of the area or not. To respond further, they may want to know how many households in a neighbourhood don’t speak English. Population Insight processes census data to tell them this.

Here’s another example. Important government forecasts, such as projections of the future growth in household numbers, are based on inter-census surveys and other records. The ten-yearly census enables statisticians to rebase their figures. The current projections for England use estimates of numbers of households in 2008; the next set early this year will be able to take account of the census’s finding that household numbers are actually lower than was thought. Now, if ministers aren’t keen on the census they are nevertheless keen on using these projections, as the gap between household growth (currently projected at 232,000 per year) and new housebuilding (barely topping 100,000) is regularly cited. Don’t they therefore have a strong interest in the accuracy of these figures?

It beggars belief that supposedly cheaper measures like scrutinising storecards can provide similar high-quality data to those from the census. We risk entering an epoch when we no longer know about our own population with any accuracy, since people who don’t have storecards, bank accounts or other accessible information, or who have recently arrived from abroad, could be missed out. In any case, information will be reduced to that which is commercially viable for private operators to record and provide.

Danny Dorling, a geographer who has never been afraid to use census and other data to criticise governments, has sketched out how the dropping of future censuses might affect local authorities.

The way that Dorling and other researchers make use of the census often uncovers inconvenient truths. But however uncomfortable, we ought to insist that we still need to know about them.

John Perry is an associate at HACT. He writes extensively on housing issues and is a Policy Advisor to the Chartered Institute of Housing.

This article first appeared on Public Finance opinion blog