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In recent years, we have all been made aware of the work taking place in professional football, led by professional footballers, the FA, the Premier League and sports broadcasters to fight racism. They continue to use their platforms to show leadership and have developed high profile programmes and initiatives to ensure long-term progress. The action taken by football as a sport has become a point of focus for societal reflection. Housing associations should consider what policy directives, with clear action plans, could achieve in our own sector.

BME London Landlords (BMELL) has developed a partnership with BME National (BMEN), and the Housing Diversity Network (HDN) to develop the Social Housing Anti-Racism Pledge (S.H.A.R.P.).

Due to be launched in February 2022, the aim of SHARP is to enable housing associations in England to come together in their commitment to support change. By taking the pledge, housing associations can commit to developing their anti-racism strategies, policy frameworks and action plans to create zero tolerance culture within their organisations with a view to long-term, consistent progress.

The rollout of the NHF’s new Code of Governance, which has given the directive to housing organisations to take on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at a governance level and seek to implement demonstrable change throughout their processes, has led to a real shift within the sector. There have also been signs, however, that for some organisations, maintaining the necessary energy to implement a pathway to become completely anti-racist in practice is going to be a considerable challenge.

Ben Laryea, Chair of BMELL, has maintained ‘The sector needs to be called out on racism… if UK society is recognised as structurally racist, then it goes hand in hand that the housing sector is also structurally racist and needs to commit to action on anti-racism in the long term’. In June 2020 BMELL made its own Addressing Structural Inequalities Statement:

“As BME led housing organisations, within our leadership we have CEO’s who have their own personal narratives, on BME London Landlords board who have experienced having to navigating systemic racism within and outside the housing sector. We would fail the communities we work with if we failed to make public some of our own individual experiences. Our proximity to BME communities gives us that responsibility to set out and make the case for appropriate solutions moving forward.” – Ben Laryea, Chair of BME London Landlords

We believe that it is an imperative that the social housing sector commits long term to developing anti-racist practices, distinct from EDI, to play its part in changing wider society.

By signing up to S.H.A.R.P. in the new year, housing associations can make a commitment to the necessary action required within their organisations and utilise the S.H.A.R.P. pledge framework for support to build an ongoing culture of accountability. Signing the pledge is the first demonstrable step that housing associations can take to focus on eliminating racism from its practices and processes. This will ultimately shape organisational culture, operational management and service delivery.

There have been good examples of progress on EDI that have taken place within the sector with the NHF using their role to facilitate EDI discussions, working parties and the development of a sector-wide EDI data tool, which has resulted in the first national picture of equality, diversity and inclusion in England’s housing association workforce.

External to the NHF EDI data tool, which focuses on the make-up of our organisations, there are substantial disparities when it comes to race in society including the pay gap, health inequalities, the treatment of people of colour in the criminal justice system, the labour market, education, and even access to clean air and not least housing conditions. This impacts many of our residents and communities.

Now that we have collated the sector’s baseline data through the EDI data tool, S.H.A.R.P. along with its training and consultancy support offer will provide an opportunity for a sector-wide commitment to an action framework on anti-racism. This framework will cover influence, engagement and impact.

When we officially launch S.H.A.R.P. in early 2022, we will be holding a series of pre-launch roundtables where more details will be shared about how organisations can sign up. There will also be information about how they can access the resources connected with the pledge.

We ask you to keep an eye out for these initial discussions and support us as we take the next steps on this journey. We believe housing associations can be agents for change, and we believe S.H.A.R.P. will enable the sector to demonstrate their commitment to this change through action.

Written by

Khalid Mair

Chair of Imani Housing Co-op Ltd.