Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. A sinister new twist in the Mitchell saga (Daily Telegraph)

It beggars belief that an officer has been arrested on suspicion of leaking details of the Mitchell incident to the press, says a Telegraph editorial.

2. Bloomberg shows the way on gun control (Financial Times)

Even after Newtown, it is unrealistic to expect comprehensive legislation, writes Jacob Weisberg.

3. 100% arts funding cut? This Newcastle budget is an act of vandalism (Guardian)

The Labour council's move is a political game intended to shame the coalition – and will wipe out the regional capital's culture, says Lee Hall.

4. No magic solution to human rights quandary (Daily Telegraph)

The law-makers, not the likes of Abu Qatada, are the greatest threat to our liberties, says Mary Riddell.

5. Bernanke – the rebel with a cause (Financial Times)

The Fed chairman’s move to target lower unemployment is genuinely radical, says Sebastian Mallaby.

6. Time for a full review of the needs of the elderly (Independent)

Responses to demographic change have been piecemeal and badly co-ordinated, says an Independent leader.

7. Britain shames itself by detaining immigrants indefinitely (Guardian)

The most incredible element of the UK's policy of indefinite detention is how routine it is, says Ellie Mae O'Hagan. What a sad reflection of our country.

8. The toughest question for Cameron come 2015: how to solve a problem like Ukip? (Independent)

The Prime Minister can no longer ignore Nigel Farage and his party, writes Matthew Norman.

9. Italy doesn’t need this clown – or Berlusconi (Times) (£)

The threatened return of the bunga-bunga warrior is only one part of the country’s refusal to face harsh reality, says Bill Emmott.

 

10. Why Europe will bounce back in 2013 (Financial Times)

Europe’s woes have echoes of an east Asian crisis, says Ruchir Sharma.

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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.