The Social Housing White Paper – Cautious Optimism for Race Equality

Blog by Positive about Inclusion – consultants.

Released in November 2020 the Social Housing White Paper was the long awaited Government response to the Grenfell tragedy. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that the Paper had been prepared with the ‘views of those devastated by Grenfell in mind’ and set in this context there were valid reasons to expect that equality, diversity and inclusion would be at the very heart of the document.

After all, one of the fundamental issues surrounding the tragedy at Grenfell is race equality. As the lawyer representing the bereaved families, Leslie Thomas QC said in July 2020, the fire “did not happen in a vacuum, a majority of the Grenfell residents who died were people of colour. Grenfell is inextricably linked with race. It is the elephant in the room.” Furthermore the Equality and Human Rights Commission in launching its own enquiry into the disaster said that the events surrounding the fire raised serious human rights and equality issues.

Despite all of the evidence that race and inequality played a huge part in the disaster and despite the fact that they continue to be subject of much of the debate during the ongoing inquiry, neither the word ‘race’ or ‘equality’ actually appear in the White Paper.

So, what can we expect in 2021 for race equality in the sector? Should we bemoan the Social Housing White Paper omissions or take heart from what we have learnt during 2020 and how we have moved on since its launch? Whilst it would be too dramatic to say there are reasons to be cheerful, there certainly are three reasons to be cautiously optimistic….


Reason 1 – Growing Commitment

Since the White Paper the world has moved on at pace, 2020 saw a step change for equality with the tragic murder of George Floyd prompting the resurgence of the international Black Lives Matter movement. For the first time society witnessed the power of consumer consciousness as the public challenged organisations to prove their credentials as a force for good. Not just wanting organisations to say that they were inclusive but to visibly and actively demonstrate it. And many in the sector did just that, responding with very clear statements about their organisations commitment to race and equality.

Reason 2 – Increased Awareness

In December the National Housing Federation published its report on equality, diversity and inclusion. Unsurprisingly identifying a lack of diversity in leadership, the report calls for real and sustained change starting with open and honest conversations. The report is the first step in a commitment the National Housing Federation have made to champion the agenda, pledging to deliver in 2021 a sector-wide picture of the diversity of workplaces compared to the demographics of the areas in which housing associations operate. For many this will undoubtedly make for uncomfortable, but very necessary, reading.

Reason 3 – Determined Regulation

And so far 2021 is maintaining the pace of change we witnessed last year. In appointing Kate Dodsworth as its first Director of Consumer Regulation, the Regulator has nailed its equality commitment firmly to the mast. Kate is current Chief Executive of Gateway Housing and set to start in her new role in the summer, she is one of the founding members of Leadership 2025 and a trustee of the charity that is taking this work forward. Leadership 2025 was set up to address diversity gaps in housing leadership and has a long-term ambition of supporting the creation of a housing sector that is vibrant and diverse at all levels. And, if more evidence of Kate’s commitment to equality were required, then you’ve only got to look at Gateway’s website to see such a clear demonstration of the organisation’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. This appointment, coupled with recent comments from the Lead Regulator Fiona McGregor urging the sector “not to lose sight” of its focus on equality, diversity and inclusion sends a clear message and a very positive sign that the regulator means business when it comes to equality.

So, yes, I believe there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic that in 2021 we can eliminate racism in our sector and that we can make it more diverse. The external backdrop and the environment is right – what is now required is action.

What we learnt in 2020 is that it is no longer enough to simply not be racist. We need to be anti-racist. Neutrality has not worked and proclaiming that we are “not racist” doesn’t require consideration of how to fight racism. To be anti-racist, on the other hand, means developing a philosophy that directly confronts that of a racist. The first week in February saw the inaugural Race Equality Week, established by Race Equality Matters, the week was created for organisations from across the country to unite to ‘seriously’ address race in the workplace. With the strap line of ‘let’s not go back to normal’, Race Equality Matters work to turn declarations of commitment and support into meaningful change. There are resources out there to help.

We all have an individual responsibility – we can’t rely on an optimistic external environment to afford real change. Change, as we all know, requires effort and the change we all need to make is about moving from being non-racist and passive to being active allies and anti-racist.

Because, as the philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797) quite rightly said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. So, what then are you going to do?