In 2020 Shelter Scotland made the commitment to be an actively anti-racist organisation.  We know that Scotland’s housing system is broken and biased, and we must fight against institutional discrimination in the housing system and defend the right to a safe home.

The Scottish Government carried out an evidence review in 2021 into the housing needs of minority ethnic groups in Scotland. They concluded that there were several key gaps in the available evidence and a need for more research.

To understand more about the barriers minoritised ethnic groups face when accessing social housing we carried out a research project led by Heriot-Watt University, in partnership with CEMVO Scotland and the abrdn Financial Fairness Trust.

The researchers spoke to 30 people from minoritised ethnic communities in Scotland and carried out a survey of 28 social landlords.

Social housing – too little and not the right kind

The research findings highlighted that a shortage of social housing makes it difficult for people from all ethnic groups (including white Scottish people) to access a home – something which is already well documented. A particular lack of larger social homes means that bigger families’ options are constrained even more. The research found that this had a particular impact for some of the people from minoritised ethnic groups that we spoke to, including leading to overcrowding.

“So, I’m still on the list, their list for a bigger house… I blame myself for not keeping, pushing, and pushing, and pushing. I still hope that I’ll be able to get a bigger house, but my kids are now growing up.” – anonymous, female, 54, from a sample of minoritised ethnic people.

Our report calls on local authorities and the Scottish Government to consider the needs of minoritised ethnic groups when making decisions on social house building: for example, making sure that enough larger social homes are built.

Racial abuse – a common occurrence

People from minoritised ethnic groups living in social housing in Scotland often both fear and experience racial harassment.

“We had our four years of history of racial harassment; verbal, car breakdowns, cars then house windows. To be honest, the downstairs windows I never had to clean. The kitchen window and sitting room windows were replaced every week. We had our TV stolen.” – Sakhina, Female, 55, from a sample of minoritised ethnic people

This experience sometimes led to victims of racial abuse having to leave their homes.

 “Yes, I had to move out of this area actually, you know I never reported, and I should have actually… I said, ‘I’m not having this, I’m leaving, there’s no way I can live in this,’ but I didn’t complain.’’ – Abiba, Male, 54, from a sample of minoritised ethnic people

The people who shared their experiences of racial abuse said they often received inadequate support from their social landlords and the police. There is a need for zero tolerance approaches against people who perpetrate racial abuse, as well as better support for victims to remain safely in their homes.

Diverse needs – a lack of understanding

People from minoritised ethnic groups shared the difficulties they face when trying to navigate the housing system and access social homes.

There is this online bidding, so a continuous, very annoying and frustrating experience. They ask so many questions that sometimes are not helpful at all – and I’ve been on the waiting list for ages and ages.’ – Tene, Male, 57, from a sample of minoritised ethnic people.

“How they speak sometimes, they just read it like a paragraph, but you need time to digest it and to think about it, so then I said, ‘Please, I sorry from me to ask you step by step, but this is difficult for me to understand all this.’– anonymous, Female, 34, from a sample of minoritised ethnic people.

People’s ethnicity can interact with other parts of their identity such as their gender to complicate the challenges faced in accessing a social home. This can result in long periods of housing insecurity, as shown by the experience of Saya:

Saya (40) is a mother of two who lived with her husband since her arrival in the UK ten years ago. Saya’s husband is a perpetrator of domestic violence. Following a violent incident, Saya called Women’s Aid who worked with the council to move her into emergency accommodation. Since then, Saya has moved a total of four times and still remains in temporary accommodation with her children.

The report urges social landlords to take a number of measures to develop their expertise and capacity to support people from minoritised ethnic backgrounds to navigate the housing system and access social homes:

  • Proactive engagement by social landlords with minoritised ethnic communities.
  • A program of capacity building in the housing sector through training.
  • Increased ethnic diversity in the workforce at all levels.
  • Improvement to the collection, use and evaluation of data on equalities, in particular on ethnicity.

For more details on the report’s recommendations you can read our summary of the research.

Get involved!

This is just the beginning of our work to become an anti-racist organisation.

We want to use this research to drive forward actionable change to policy and practice in the housing sector. We will be holding workshops with stakeholders from the housing sector and beyond to define the key actions that are required. We would love to hear from you on what you think should be done.

If you would like to sign up to attend a workshop please register here.