On 5 February the English Defence League decided to march on Luton and voice their displeasure at the local Muslim community. On the same day, our prime minister was in Munich telling the world that multiculturalism in Britain had failed.
I doubt it was intentional but the timing was certainly unfortunate. Nevertheless, his comments invigorated racist factions of Britain’s far-right.
BMENational member housing associations with predominantly Muslim tenants have told me of their concerns and fears. Some tenants are frightened the speech will provoke a backlash from those emboldened by the prime minister’s words.
David Cameron made some accurate observations. But instead of being the rallying call he envisaged, he has focused the spotlight on an already stigmatised community. He has also undermined much of the admirable work housing associations have done to encourage and empower Muslim communities to integrate with British society.
The prime minister’s failure to acknowledge the connection between segregated communities and poor housing was particularly disheartening. On the one hand, he’s asking for organisations, like housing associations, to engage more effectively with immigrant communities. On the other, his government is drastically cutting back on the crucial funding needed for them to progress with their schemes.
I’m sure Mr Cameron needs no reminding that one of the main reasons the riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham erupted in 2001 was that the ‘segregated’ – like the non-BME community – were living in deprived neighbourhoods with bad housing.
Fortunately, here in London and the south east, we haven’t seen scenes like that for decades. But poor social housing is still a major concern for those working with the region’s immigrant and refugee communities. And despite the financial problems facing the sector, BME housing associations are proudly continuing with their invaluable work.
There are many excellent examples of community cohesion in our region. North London Muslim Housing Association organises mixed after-school clubs and youth groups. Bangla Housing Association in east London hosts classes to improve tenants’ English and, with other landlords, arranges days out where residents can meet their neighbours.
Neither is this exclusive to associations with mainly Muslim tenants. Arhag Housing Association has helped refugees from all over the world with education and job skills training. This equips them with the tools to make a positive, constructive contribution towards British society.
The prime minister mentioned his keenness to work with organisations that share his ambitions. If he took a step back, Mr Cameron would realise that – much like his big society concept – people have been working hard towards such initiatives for years.
This article was reproduced courtesy of Inside Housing.