Opinion: Margaret Hodge should go

Margaret Hodge has provoked furious discussion by suggesting that ‘indigenous’ British families should receive priority for social housing over migrants regardless of need. I admit being shocked when I heard her comments on the BBC – they seemed so very clearly to echo BNP policy.

Throughout the piece I was prepared to accept that her comments without thinking her racist (though I did, and do, think she’s a damned fool), right up until I heard her say, in relation to the needs of migrants, “and their need will often override the entitlement that my white families feel”. What I’m still not clear about is whether she’s putting out her message because she believes it, or because she’s scared that if she doesn’t echo the BNP message in her constituency, she’ll lose votes.

I spent a couple of days mulling over what Margaret Hodge had said and found myself asking a few questions. I kept returning to just what an indigenous Britain actually is? Indigenous is a tricky word because it doesn’t have a clear definition. Trawling various dictionaries reveals connections with ethnicity, birthplace, natural association etc. What is clear is that it doesn’t refer to citizenship – and that is the problem. I think when Margaret Hodge linked indigenous population and white families she gave the game away. If she’d talked about the entitlement of British citizens over migrant workers to social housing then I think she’d be receiving far less criticism today. Sadly, she didn’t.

The question of whether citizenship should grant greater entitlement to social housing is, however, another area that’s not as straightforward as it first seems. You see; most migrant workers pay UK tax and make National Insurance contributions. Migrant workers also make a huge contribution to our economy and there are several sectors of our economy that could well collapse without them. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) concluded that every 1% rise in inward migration resulted in +1.5% growth to our economy. The issue of whether someone should be prioritised on grounds solely of nationality (or ethnicity as Mrs. Hodge would seem to want) becomes problematic – should a single British-born man be given priority for a council home over a large foreign family who are homeless (and might have lived here for many years)? I can certainly see how citizenship might be a factor used in the calculations that determine social housing allocation – but those calculations are currently based entirely on need. If we are to change that need-based calculation, then perhaps people might start asking for other factors to be taken account of – like criminal record, time spent in the country, contribution to society, etc. It becomes a very slippery slope.

But what I found myself wondering above all else was where there actually is a problem of migrant workers being given housed at the expense of British nationals? There are over 10 million long-term, legally resident migrants living in the EU, and many EU citizens living in countries other than the one they hold citizenship in. But how many of them are getting social housing?

In the UK, EU migrants are not entitled to benefits until they have been here for over a year, and have to be registered with the government’s Workers’ Registration Scheme – for which they must have a job. Non EU citizens must have special work permits and are not generally entitled to benefits. In any case, the only way to get on the housing register is to have a NI number, and unless a migrant can prove they are working or on the Workers’ Registration Scheme the have no entitlement to housing or assistance whatever their circumstances.  So – the only way to get social housing is by coming here to work and remaining here legally. Most economic migrants are working and single (or have left family behind in their home country and are sending back money), which means that they have very little chance of getting a council house anyway because priorities are given to families in desperate need.

The real problem of housing (and there definitely is one) is that the government have not provided, or helped to provide, anywhere near enough affordable or social housing to buy or rent. In Salford, where I am a councillor, the council has been furiously selling off or demolishing social housing for years, while the cost of housing has been soaring and the ratio of average income to average house price has been growing. The result is that nearly 13,000 are on the waiting list for social housing; that waiting lists are as long as nine years for a four bedroom house; and that homelessness has risen dramatically. Meanwhile, the council’s planning guidance requiring developers to build affordable housing where need could be shown produced no affordable houses at all from 1995-2006; and during the same period almost no social housing for rent was built.

As far as I can see Margaret Hodge has highlighted a problem that doesn’t really exist to any great extent, and used language that plays into the hands of the far-right to do in the process. Meanwhile, she’s deflected attention away from the real problem – the government’s total failure to address the housing needs of the poorest in society. The question is why? I can’t help concluding that the answer is moral cowardice and abject stupidity motivated by fear of electoral loss. Personally, I think she should resign or be sacked.

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9 Comments

  • I’m a bit surprised at the lack of response to this post. I don’t much care for Margaret Hodge, but she is raising issues which need to be debated, albeit with sensitivity, without participants in the debate being labelled racist.

  • I very much agree with Steve Cooke’s considered views on this. I knew Margaret when she was leader of Islington Council, where I am now a councillor myself. She would have been hounded out of Islington for uttering these views. Years ago a rogue opposition SDP councillor in Islington coined the phrase ‘Housing for the sons and daughters of the people of Islington’ – code for white working class families from Islington.This was condemned by her and her Labour colleagues. A few of the Dep. Labour Leader hopefuls have come out and condemned her views, otherwise -silence from the Labour Party.
    If a Lib Dem MP were to have expressed these views, we would have all been branded a ‘racist party’
    Social housing is in short supply precisely because the Labour Government did nothing for years to stem the flow of council house sell offs at knock down prices. Far too few houses have been built to replace them. Ironically, coming from a refugee family herself (albeit a wealthy one), she is clearly pandering to the false views and perceptions, and we’ve all heard them on the doorstep, that migrants are given preferential treatment when it comes to allocating council housing. Housing must and should continue to be allocated on a needs basis, not on race.
    It is an absolute minefield to even consider changing housing policy on the lines of race.

  • ‘As far as I can see Margaret Hodge has highlighted a problem that doesn’t really exist to any great extent,’

    Am not sure which planet you are living on!
    Instead of writing this ill informed prose,why don’t you get off your backside and visit Barking & Dagenham or parts of London & see the scale of the problem.

  • Steve Cooke 28th May '07 - 9:41am

    In reply to Jim – here’s a quote from John Cruddas: ‘In the six years I have been an MP, in Margaret’s neighbouring constituency of Dagenham, we have never housed unregularised migrants or asylum seekers in local authority accommodation’.

    The planet I live on is one in which I can recognise that people with different coloured skin from my own are every bit as likely to be British as me.

    The problem is obviously twofold: a) there’s a lack of social housing, and b) people wrongly lay the blame at the feet of economic migrants.

  • it's a one horse race 28th May '07 - 12:24pm

    Oh here we go again. LibDems being soft on migrants to help save their votes in inner cities.

    Fact – if you’re a white Briton who has paid NI all your life, you’ll be second in the queue for housing behind some random immigrant based soely on soft left namby pamby PC crap like thw FibDems always spout.

    The working class don’t vote BNP for the sake of something to do. Tere is only one party sick of bowing to immigrant pressure – the BNP will beat the LibDems on this issue if you keep running away from it.

  • Steve Cooke 28th May '07 - 2:26pm

    Simply stating that a complete lie is true does not make it so.

  • Of course she should go. She is quite blatantly attempting to whip up race-hatred in order to hide the fact that her government are to blame for the housing crisis. She is quite literally setting poor people on each other, provoking them into fighting each other for the crumbs her government chucks at them. This is just despicable but apparently fascist rantings are quite acceptable to the Labour party these days – as long as you don’t mention the real problems, you’re alright by New Labour.

  • M Hodge does not have a healthy majority she has a decreasing majority and she knows it. The one and only reason M Hodge wrote the article was votes pure and simple. She does not care one bit about Barking, she has never in her years as its MP raised the issues on housing either with the government or with the local council. In the past year she has made no effort to attack the BNP in the borough or the uselessness of the 12 councillors they have. She knows she is in big trouble with a large number of party members in Barking following her outburst just before last years local elections and she stupidly believes that this years comments will save her, just goes to show how bad her judgement is.

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