Inquiry launched into migrant council housing
By Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor
Last Updated: 3:06am GMT 03/11/2007
A major independent inquiry to determine whether immigrants are given unfair access to council housing was announced yesterday by Britain's race watchdog and local authority leaders.
Trevor Phillips, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said there was a “widespread public perception” that new migrants had “unfair advantages to which they are not entitled”.
He announced that his commission and the Local Government Association (LGA) would launch a study to determine whether the perception was correct, and would stop any abuse it uncovered.
The inquiry comes after the Government was forced to admit that immigrants had taken a far higher proportion of jobs over the past decade than had previously been announced.
Yesterday it emerged that the number of British nationals in work had actually fallen over the past two years as 540,000 foreign workers replaced them.
In a speech to council leaders, Mr Phillips said: “What drives hostility is a widespread public perception that new migrants too often get an unfair advantage to which they are not entitled.
“One area where this idea of unfairness is most frequently alleged is in housing allocation, specifically that white families are cheated out of their right to social housing by newly arrived migrants.”
Although Mr Phillips said he had “never seen any reliable evidence to back up this claim” he said it was not enough to “merely dismiss the suggestion”.
“If there is evidence that [the housing system is being abused] then we have the powers and the mandate to stop the abuse and we will do so,” he said. “If there is no evidence, then we can properly say that this insinuation should play no part in next year's elections.”
The call for an inquiry was welcomed by Sir Simon Milton, the chairman of the LGA, who said it could be broadened beyond housing to other areas if necessary. The LGA also called for the Government to establish a 250 million migration “contingency fund” to cope with high levels of immigration.
“Trevor Phillips has hit on an important point and it is something that needs to be investigated,” said Sir Simon. “It is certainly something you hear complaints about but we do not believe that immigrants do get preferential treatment.”
Most councils allocate housing using a points system. The criteria vary, but those with children and people living in cramped conditions tend to get more points and therefore are given priority.
Asylum seekers and other immigrants are not thought to be given more points purely because of their background but are more likely to be among the very poor and therefore in need of assistance.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Trevor Phillips said… he has never seen 'any reliable evidence' to back up claims that councils are unfairly allocating housing.
“While local government has always maintained they have operated allocations fairly, we agree it is important to deal with perception.”
The Tories repeated their pledge to cut significantly the number of new immigrants from the current level of about 200,000 a year.
David Cameron said: “Much more important is to get control of the immigration, rather than throw your hands up in the air and sort of panic, like the Government has done this week, and start having to promise more money.”