Children in social housing face segregation in London

Segregation in the British capital includes “racial steering” by estate agents

A row of residential properties stand in front of the City of London financial district in London, U.K. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
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Families living in the social housing building of a residential complex in south London have had their children prevented from playing with their friends in an adjacent multimillion-pound housing development after impassable hedges were built to prevent access.

The original planning documents, which were approved by the local Lambeth Council in 2013 and went through public consultation, did not mention separate playgrounds for residents of different tenure, British newspaper The Guardian reported.

Historic and current housing policies in the UK capital have been found to at times discriminate between groups of residents, studies have shown.

Developer Henley Homes marketed the award-winning 149-home development – built in 2016 on the site of a former secondary school – as an inclusive and family-friendly environment.

In response to the controversy, Tariq Usmani, CEO of Henley Homes, said: “Personally, I have fought against social injustice as long as I can remember and it cuts deeply when you are accused of the same.”

The company said it never objected that the residents of the social housing have access to the play areas and amenities that were made available.

Henley Homes and Lambeth Council also pointed out that a small strip of toddler play equipment was made available specifically for the social housing children.

Daniella Rea, one of the residents living in the social housing side of the complex, said that she had bought the house thinking her family would have access to a large playground area. “I have a disabled child and that space is big enough for him to play with a special bike. Then I was told no, I cannot use it because it’s in a private area,” she said in an interview on British public broadcaster BBC.

Louise Whitley, who lives in the privately owned part, said she was equally appalled by the disparity. “The best thing for our children is for them to play together with their friends and grow together,” she said. “It’s tragic that a wall has been put in to stop this.”

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, commented on the dispute saying “segregation has absolutely no place in London.” “It’s disgraceful that children who live in the same development are not being allowed to play together. The developer should put an end to this shameful practice immediately,” he said on Twitter.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “kids being excluded from enjoying a play area on the same development because they live in social housing is outrageous. A core part of the Social Housing Green Paper is precisely about breaking stigma.”

The Social Housing Green Paper, published last year, was a consultation where social housing residents across the country submitted their opinions, views and concerns. The survey was hailed as a landmark opportunity for major reform to improve fairness, quality and safety.

However, segregation is still rampant. The Radical Housing Network, a campaign group fighting for housing equality, denounced in 2017 that residents who had survived the fire at the Grenfell Tower had been resettled in a compound adjacent to a luxury development but were not allowed to use the communal garden.

A study on housing by the Sheffield Hallam University found last year that current housing policies and practices can discriminate between groups. This includes “racial steering” by estate agents, diminished access to mortgage lending, discrimination by private landlords in selecting tenants, and discriminatory processes in the social housing system.

The study suggested that such processes diminish the potential for integration of minority ethnic groups, shaping residential settlement patterns in counter-productive ways.