Belfast's Catholic community suffering social housing inequality
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Communities, Housing, Local Government
Belfast's Catholic community is suffering from inequality in the provision of social housing.
The Participation and the Practice of Rights Organisation's (PPR) report - 'Equality Can't Wait' - suggests a series of ministerial, statutory and council failures have compounded religious inequality in housing across North Belfast.
The report covers two different sets of figures held by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE). In 2009, one set of figures showed that Catholics in North Belfast made up 73% of those in housing stress, with the other putting the figure at 57%.
After 2009, the methodology which put the percentage of Catholics in housing stress at 73% ceased to be used by the NIHE, the report says.
Kate Ward, PPR policy and research support officer, said: “Our work is showing that Catholics in North Belfast in need of housing have been repeatedly disadvantaged.
"This includes the failure of the £133 million North Belfast housing strategy to tackle inequality; the engineering of a Belfast City Centre ‘shared space’ being prioritised over addressing existing Catholic housing need; and the removal of protections which ‘ring-fenced’ new social homes for areas impacted by religious inequality."
In May 2009, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights called on the UK government and Northern Ireland Executive to act to address “the chronic shortage of housing, in particular social housing, for the most disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups, such as...Catholic families in Northern Belfast”.
The report concludes that the legal obligation to address religious inequality and meet housing need, which are cornerstones of the peace settlement, are not being met in the following areas:
• The desire to build new housing areas with a ‘balanced’ religious composition has been prioritised over addressing housing inequality.
• A review of the social housing allocations policy across Northern Ireland was announced in the Department of Social Development’s housing strategy for 2012-2017. The terms of reference for the review state it is to consider, amongst other things “access to the social housing waiting list for those applicants with little or no demonstrated housing need".
• Initiatives are under way that will lead to social housing not being targeted at areas where people need it most, but where there is actually negligible demand on the social housing waiting list.
Kate Ward added: “The festering sore of religious inequality in housing must become a priority for the Minister for Social Development, and more widely the Northern Ireland Executive.
“Behind the figures and statistics are people who have been living in poor housing conditions for a long time, with little hope for change.
"With the upcoming reform of the NIHE, and the launch of Northern Ireland’s first housing strategy, the time to act is now. The ‘Equality Can’t Wait’ report calls on the Minister for Social Development to put in place a timetabled and resourced strategy for eradicating religious inequality in North Belfast, and review key policies affecting social housing residents across Northern Ireland to ensure they comply with the statutory obligation to address inequality."
"All those with influence must act to ensure these vital equality provisions, which are core to the Good Friday Agreement, are implemented without delay.”
Thomas Hammarberg, former Council of Europe commissioner for Human Rights, who visited North Belfast residents in December 2011, states in the foreword of the “Equality Can’t Wait” report: “The Northern Ireland peace agreement was unique in how it created provisions which mainstreamed human rights and equality into the everyday operations of government.
"Promoting rights and equality was recognised as a bedrock for a sustainable peace process. However, such provisions have to be translated into improved outcomes for the most vulnerable in our society, such as the residents I met in North Belfast. The people with responsibility for implementing and upholding human rights and equality have to be held accountable.”