Racial discrimination in housing can be enormously damaging. Photo: Getty
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Does London's housing industry have a problem with race?

The UK has perfectly decent race discrimination laws – but in an area as complex as housing, the government must double down on efforts to enforce this legislation.

Last month, a major housing developer in south east London faced complaints from local residents that not enough white faces were being shown on their advertising hoardings – for their shiny riverside apartments selling for up to £800,000.

The complainants pointed to several prominent hoardings which featured people one can reasonably presume were the desired target owner-occupier – white Caucasian young professionals. The developer has since disputed the residents disgruntlement – saying that other hoardings around the site used black and Asian faces. These were, however, less prominently positioned.

Having spoken to those who complained, it's clear that regardless of whether the firm's marketing was racially biased, the issue had touched a nerve.

There was a belief that housing developers in south east London wanted to attract wealthier white professionals, at the expense of local ethnic minorities – who have often lived in the area for longer and in some cases account for half the local population. They see the slew of hipster cafes, mahogany coated wine bars and rising house prices as a gentrification process inextricably entwined with race economics.

It's a gripe I experienced when living in Brixton, south London, a few years ago. I'm a white “young professional” – and had moved to the area midway through its extraordinary gentrification process. One observation of race could be seen on the bus down Brixton Hill, to the Tube station, where most of the white passengers off-loaded and jumped on the Underground, while black and Asian passengers mainly stayed on the bus, heading for central London. Underground tickets in London are roughly twice as expensive as buses, and it was an unsettling and embarrassing demonstration of how important race still is in determining income inequality. Black Caribbean Londoners are 50 per cent more likely than white Londoners to come from low-income households, while black Africans are more likely.

In 2013, an investigation by the BBC discovered letting agents in London were quietly conspiring to ensure black tenants weren't offered leases, on request from racist landlords. When approached by black tenants, the agents would simply pretend the flat had already been let, or promise to call them back – but never following through. A year previously, the BBC had uncovered numerous private advertisements for flats which asked for “Asian only” or “Indian only” tenants, demonstrating that racism can “flow both ways.” In 2009, the BBC found that letting agents in Lincolnshire had been excluding migrant workers at the request of landlords

The legislative framework is also muddled. Discrimination on the grounds of colour or nationality is technically allowed if someone is taking in a lodger in small premises, or if an owner-occupier is selling their home privately.

When it comes to social housing, there is, despite what the far right claim, little to suggest that immigrants or racial minorities are any more likely to make it off the 2m strong waiting list and into a council house.

But black and ethnic minority (BAME) housing associations have faded from public life. Established in the Seventies and Eighties, they have since largely been assimilated into larger associations, and lost their specialised identity. It has long been argued these groups promote racial separation, which in some part is true – but there is no denying that racial minorities in the UK have specific social problems that might be better addressed by close support from housing associations, not big government.

Any actual or perceived element of racial discrimination in housing can be enormously damaging. Some have attributed the Ferguson riots last year to poorly formulated housing policy that came about in the mid twentieth century. On the other side, developing housing policy which specifically addresses income inequalities between ethnic groups can have a pronounced and positive effect on community cohesion. The UK has perfectly decent race discrimination laws – but in an area as complex as housing, with so many moving parts of such varying scale, the government must double down on efforts to enforce this legislation.

Alastair Sloan, unequalmeasures.com

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Anxiety is not cool, funny or fashionable

A charitable initative to encourage sufferers to knit a Christmas jumper signalling their condition is well-intentioned but way off the mark.

The other night, I had one of those teeth-falling-out dreams. I dreamt I was on a bus, and every time it stopped one of my teeth plunked effortlessly out of my skull. “Shit,” I said to myself, in the dream, “this is like one of those teeth-falling out dreams”. Because – without getting too Inception – even in its midst, I realised this style of anxiety dream is a huge cliché.

Were my subconscious a little more creative, maybe it would’ve concocted a situation where I was on a bus (sure, bus, why not?), feeling anxious (because I nearly always feel anxious) and I’m wearing a jumper with the word “ANXIOUS” scrawled across my tits, so I can no longer hyperventilate – in private — about having made a bad impression with the woman who just served me in Tesco. What if, in this jumper, those same men who tell women to “smile, love” start telling me to relax. What if I have to start explaining panic attacks, mid-panic attack? Thanks to mental health charity Anxiety UK, this more original take on the classic teeth-falling-out dream could become a reality. Last week, they introduced an awareness-raising Christmas “anxiety” jumper.

It’s difficult to slate anyone for doing something as objectively important as tackling the stigma around mental health problems. Then again, right now, I’m struggling to think of anything more anxiety-inducing than wearing any item of clothing that advertises my anxiety. Although I’m fully prepared to accept that I’m just not badass enough to wear such a thing. As someone whose personal style is “background lesbian”, the only words I want anywhere near my chest are “north” and “face”.  

It should probably be acknowledged that the anxiety jumper isn’t actually being sold ready to wear, but as a knitting pattern. The idea being that you make your own anxiety jumper, in whichever colours you find least/most stressful. I’m not going to go on about feeling “excluded” – as a non-knitter – from this campaign. At the same time, the “anxiety jumper” demographic is almost definitely twee middle class millennials who can/will knit.

Photo: Anxiety UK

Unintentionally, I’m sure, a jumper embellished with the word “anxious” touts an utterly debilitating condition as a trend. Much like, actually, the “anxiety club” jumper that was unanimously deemed awful earlier this year. Granted, the original anxiety jumper — we now live in a world with at least two anxiety jumpers — wasn’t charitable or ostensibly well intentioned. It had a rainbow on it. Which was either an astute, ironic comment on how un-rainbow-like  anxiety is or, more likely, a poorly judged non sequitur farted into existence by a bored designer. Maybe the same one who thought up the Urban Outfitters “depression” t-shirt of 2014.

From Zayn Malik to Oprah Winfrey, a growing number of celebrities are opening up about what may seem, to someone who has never struggled with anxiety, like the trendiest disorder of the decade. Anxiety, of course, isn’t trendy; it’s just incredibly common. As someone constantly reassured by the fact that, yes, millions of other people have (real life) panic meltdowns on public transport, I could hardly argue that we shouldn’t be discussing our personal experiences of anxiety. But you have to ask whether anyone would be comfortable wearing a jumper that said “schizophrenic” or “bulimic”. Anxiety, it has to be said, has a tendency – as one of the more “socially acceptable” mental illnesses — to steal the limelight.

But I hope we carry on talking anxiety. I’m not sure Movember actually gets us talking about prostates, but it puts them out there at least. If Christmas jumpers can do the same for the range of mental health issues under the “anxiety” umbrella, then move over, Rudolph.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.