The Daily Mail ‘revealed’ last week that ‘500,000 immigrants have been given social housing in the last decade’. So what was shocking about that? This is no more than should be expected given what we have long known about the proportion of the UK population that were born abroad.
Thanks to the census, we now have more detailed figures about tenure according to whether people were born in the UK or not. We have long known that about one in eight people were born abroad, and of course this covers children of British servicemen and even such notables as Boris Johnson and Prince Phillip. We can also now confirm that – surprise, surprise – the proportion of foreign born tenants in social housing is also about one in eight. The only thing that’s new about these figures is that the census provides detailed confirmation of trends that were already known.
Specifically, we know that recent migrants are overwhelmingly dependent on the private rented sector and gain limited access to social housing, but eventually this evens out as longer-term migrants make similar use of social housing to UK-born residents. The census shows that, of the people who first arrived in the UK in the decade to 2011, almost two-thirds are private tenants. Perhaps surprisingly, one in four are already owner-occupiers. The proportion who have become social tenants is only 13%. Yet this is the shock statistic that attracts the attention of the Daily Mail.
It gets worse. The sub-heading to the story talks about those who ‘have arrived’ being ‘given council homes’. Aside from the facts that no one is ‘given’ a home and the figures relate to housing associations as well as councils, the Mail deliberately implies that those allocated social housing are recent arrivals. The Mail then headlines David Cameron’s ‘clampdown’ which will ensure that migrants to the UK only become eligible for social housing after they have been here for two years. Yet there are two issues about this. One is that this ‘clampdown’ is not mandatory on social landlords, and many may ignore it. The second issue is that it will make negligible difference anyway, since new migrants are most unlikely to qualify through normal waiting lists in such a short time period and urgent cases will still have to be helped through homelessness legislation in any case.
The Daily Mail ignores the government’s latest move to limit migrants’ access to housing, its proposal to require private landlords to make immigration checks. Absurdly, the main effect of this move might well be that migrants will find it more difficult to get private lettings via responsible landlords. This might happen either because landlords find ways to give priority to those whose immigration status isn’t in doubt (e.g. UK passport holders), or because the further checks that may be needed on migrants’ status mean they lose out to a prospective tenant who can move in with no delay. What could be the consequences if this happens on a significant scale? – that more migrants present themselves as homeless to local councils, and some get social lettings as a result.
In other words, the Mail has conveniently focused on one of David Cameron’s recent initiatives but ignored another. The one they focus on may look good but it will have little effect. The one they ignore could force more migrants to look to the social sector for help. This is absurd: as the census shows, of the 3.6 million people who came to the UK as long-term migrants in the period 2001-11, over 3.1 million solved their own housing problems. Isn’t this something to be encouraged?
Original post and comments: Migration Pulse