Noble Black Woman Joins Shelter’s Fight for Social Housing

By Thomas L Blair, 27 January 2018 ©

baroness-doreenBaroness Doreen Lawrence OBE boosts the credibility of Shelter’s Grenfell-inspired “Save our Social Housing” Commission. She, too, is a survivor of a murderous event – the racist attack on her son, Stephen in 1993. Moreover, her tireless efforts to improve the justice and police systems touched the nation’s hearts.

Now, Baroness Lawrence joins SoSH commissioners “to oversee research with social housing tenants, and engage with the public in online public consultation and roadshows across the country”.

Lawrence, an Honorary Doctor of Letters for outstanding contributions to public life, welcomes the chance to activate the Shelter campaign. It aims “to hold a mirror up to society” and right the wrongs at the hands of housing providers. This will give threatened tenants a “far louder” say in the future of public housing policy, Shelter said.

The wrongs require us to take a “long, hard look at why social housing tenants were often made to feel like second-class citizens,” said commission chair Reverend Mike Long, of the Notting Hill Methodist Church.

Undoubtedly, Baroness Lawrence’s progressive associates — her protégé former Labour leader Ed Miliband, ex-communities minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, founder of the charity Social Mobility for All, along with a former Grenfell Tower resident – will stimulate public concern.

However, the big question is will they stem the universal disregard of race, class and faith-related issues in Britain’s social housing?

It’s good to see some action being taken. But these are turbulent, desperate times. A “long, hard look” is frankly not enough. The commissioners must aim to release the creative powers stifled in ghettos of despair.

Here’s my views on how to go about it. First, SoSH desk researchers will have to investigate a litany of ills. Years of demographic studies reveal that Black and minority ethnic  people are colonies in social housing. In fact, housing administrators  group them  with white residents classified as “socially excluded”, according to Shelter’s own evidence-based studies,

Second,  too often “the facts” are used to bludgeon defenceless minorities — to blame the victim rather than the causes of systemic flaws. But if I have learned anything from past cases, in Europe, Asia and the Americas, researchers can miss key human factors.  For instance, the surprising examples of human resilience. The coping strategies that can make each day livable.  And, when things are roughest, hope promises to repel despair.

Therefore, Shelter’s SoSH commissioners must not only uncover “the facts” that cloak the pain. They must release the suppressed creative power of aspirations.

In this regard, the estates’ millennials and third or fourth generation youth – bloggers and rappers, – are the real digital thought-innovators. They are reclaiming and refashioning their identity with tough rhythms and poetic ambitions. The commissioners need to internetwork with them. Why not headline them in SoSH “consultations and roadshows”?

Third, undeniably the SoSH commissioners must promote ambitious legislation, well-placed resources, safe cladding, positive government response and affirmative mayoral action. But the keywords and hyperlinks to change carry the most important message: SOCIAL ACTION  is the NECESSARY CONDITION for SOCIAL HOUSING.  Can the commissioners further the cause as participating “involved observers”?

The answer to the question is yes.  Only direct engagement prepares you to right the race-related “wrongs” of social housing.  For liberal activists as well as communities and residents the maxim is the same:  “You’ve got to feel it to know it”.  The heartening results will be the markers of successful intervention — and add social value to commission reports.

Therefore, in this work, Baroness Lawrence’s exemplary background , Caribbean heritage insights and Black British mobilising skills have their place — charting the way toward lasting remedial action and reform of British social housing.


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