Experience of racial discrimination linked to elevated homelessness risk – study

Black people who experience discrimination, harassment or abuse because of their race have a significantly greater risk of homelessness, research has suggested.

Race, ethnicity and discrimination-related factors affect homelessness risks directly, as well as indirectly through increased levels of poverty or a higher likelihood of renting rather than home ownership, researchers believe.

The increased risk remains even when other factors such as demographics, employment, poverty and housing tenure are taken into account, according to research led by Heriot-Watt University.

It said the link between discrimination and homelessness is particularly significant for black people, but also for mixed and some other ethnic groups.

For a typical black-led household reporting discrimination, the risk of homelessness is nearly 50% above that of a typical white-led household, with two-thirds of that effect being indirect via poverty and housing conditions.

Researchers said they focused on exploring these indirect effects following controversies around a report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities in March 2021.

This argued that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion all impact life chances more than racism, and the commission chairman said it had found no evidence of institutional racism in the areas it examined.

The latest report analyses ten sets of official data, including the census, with the support of race and equality, housing and homelessness experts and funding from the Oak Foundation.

Researchers defined homelessness in four ways – core, such as rough sleeping or sofa surfing; statutory, such as people assessed by their council as homeless or at risk of homelessness and eligible for help; hidden, such as overcrowding; and people at risk of homelessness because of, for example, financial difficulties.

It is part of a three-year programme to gather evidence to inform actions to eliminate racial discrimination, disparities and injustices in the homelessness and housing fields.

The report found “overwhelming” evidence that people from black and minoritised ethnic communities experience disproportionate levels of homelessness in the UK.

Black people are more than three times more likely than white people to experience statutory homelessness in England, it said.

Almost one-third of black people with experience of homelessness said they have faced discrimination from a social or private landlord.

Black, mixed and other minoritised ethnic communities were around twice as likely to report experience of discrimination from a landlord if they also had experience of homelessness.

The researchers said this could indicate experience of discrimination increases the risk of homelessness, or that being homeless exposes people to more discrimination.

Meanwhile, Asian households were found to experience lower rates of both statutory homelessness and core forms of homelessness than black households.

However, they were more likely to experience more hidden aspects, such as overcrowding or “doubling up” with other households.

Pakistani and Bangladeshi households face greater risks of homelessness than Indian and other Asian groups, it found.

The risk of homelessness was found to vary by geography and by racial group, with black and minoritised ethnic communities living in London facing substantially higher risks.

For example, a household headed up by a young, black, single person, who is renting in London, poor and has experience of discrimination, has an increased risk of homelessness that is five times that of an average white household, its modelling suggests.

Professor Glen Bramley, from the Institute of Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research at Heriot-Watt University and report co-author, said: “This report reveals the shocking extent of disparities in homelessness risks experienced between some minoritised ethnic communities and white people living in the UK today.

“What is particularly distressing about the findings is the apparent link between homelessness and race discrimination. This needs further investigation and we are committed to this ongoing work.”

Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said: “As with homelessness, racism is structural and is woven into the processes and practices of systems and institutions which should act as the safety net preventing people from becoming homelessness to begin with, and then supporting them to escape the cycle of exclusion once they become homeless.

“The safety nets are not working for minority groups.”

Crisis chief executive Matt Downie said: “Every day we see in our services that black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are experiencing higher rates of homelessness, but this research puts beyond doubt the reality and scale of the problem.

“It is horrifying that people are being exposed to harassment and abuse in the pursuit of trying to find somewhere safe and secure to live.”

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “The direct link between homelessness and racial discrimination cannot be ignored and more has to be done.”

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “Any kind of discrimination is abhorrent and must be rooted out. We have given councils £316 million this year to prevent homelessness and ensure families are not left without a roof over their heads. This can prevent evictions and help people find new homes.

“We are also committed to delivering a fairer deal for renters and will bring forward legislation in due course.”