LONDON (Reuters) - Migrants to Britain are not receiving preferential treatment over the allocation of social housing as many people believe, a report released on Tuesday said.
Last month, Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised to overhaul the system to “give more priority to local people,” addressing public fears that migrants were getting unfair treatment.
But the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said research showed such concern was misplaced.
Its report said less than 2 percent of all social housing residents were migrants who had moved to Britain in the last five years. Instead, nine out of 10 of all those who lived in social housing were born in Britain.
“We have to recognise that people’s perceptions are powerful, so it’s vital that social housing providers and policy makers work to foster understanding about what is really happening on the ground,” said Trevor Phillips, the Commission’s chairman.
“Much of the public concern about the impact of migration on social housing has, at its heart, the failure of social housing supply to meet the demands of the population.”
Last year, MPs warned that the rapid rise of immigration was having significant impacts on community cohesion and could lead to rising tensions.
The Communities and Local Government committee said residents had expressed concerns that migration was putting pressure on housing and that there was a belief migrants received unfair priority when it came to local services.
The EHRC report said there was no evidence that the system was being abused or that there was “queue jumping.”
“Despite the evidence, the public has a different perception of who gets priority for social housing,” the report said.
“Focus group discussions held as part of the project exposed widely held fears that the allocation process puts white British families at a disadvantage and that migrants are “cheating the system.’”
It said most new migrants to Britain over the last five years, especially from new European Union member states such as Poland had been ineligible for social housing as they did not meet the correct criteria.
Most, 64 percent, lived in private rented accommodation instead.
However, the research did show that once migrants had settled, the proportion of people living in social housing within British-born and foreign-born communities was the same, at about one in six.
Brown’s promise to ensure local people were given favourable treatment by councils was seen by commentators as a response to the rise in support for the far right British National Party (BNP) among traditional Labour voters.
The BNP, which campaigns for a halt for immigration, gained two seats in last month’s elections for the European Parliament, the first it had ever won.
Editing by Steve Addison
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