Havering’s immigration fears: Cause of housing crisis?
PUBLISHED: 09:00 28 June 2014 | UPDATED: 10:30 30 June 2014
No matter who you speak to, you are likely to be told that Havering is facing a vast problem with social housing.
Many people have cited this as the reason they voted for Ukip in the May elections, giving the anti-immigration party its biggest success in London.
It’s clear that there is a massive strain on housing – but is immigration really to blame?
The Recorder spoke to Havering residents in South Street, Romford, to see if their perceptions matched the reality.
An overwhelming majority of people thought that social housing in Havering disproportionately went to immigrants.
Samantha Janes, 19, of Rush Green Road, Rush Green, confidently guessed that 75 per cent of people in social housing had moved to the borough in the last two years. Albert Thompson, 85, also described immigration as the “biggest issue” for people in Havering.
“It’s caused so much hardship for everyone and it has caused the housing situation,” he said.
But he was shocked when he found out that the number of people in Havering’s social housing who had moved to the borough in the last two years was zero.
“Can you believe that?” he said. “I am surprised.”
In fact, the council’s policy, introduced in 2013, is that to be placed on the housing list you must have lived in the borough, let alone the country, for at least two years.
This threshold is set to rise shortly to five years.
But there is no doubting Mr Thompson’s real concerns.
“I feel very sorry for the youngsters. I have two grandchildren and they’re struggling to get decent jobs,” he said.
Miss Janes also has frustrations and she said she has been on the housing register for years without getting a home.
With more than 2,200 people queuing for social housing in the borough, she will continue to wait too.
People also estimated that a great proportion of those waiting for housing had recently moved to the country. But, nearly 85pc of these have lived in the borough for more than five years.
But still, Havering’s Ukip leader, Cllr Lawrence Webb, wants to see a stricter system in place where long-term residents get a higher priority over others.
He said: “Anyone from anywhere in Europe can declare themselves to be homeless, they may have a string of villas in the Algarve but there’s no way to check it.”
He was unable to offer any proof that it has happened and said it was an “extreme example”, but warned that people with ties to Havering are sliding off the waiting list thanks to immigrants on low incomes.
But Havering’s new housing chief, Cllr Damian White, denied that immigrants have a detrimental affect on the demand for social housing.
He said: “Not at all, it’s not immigrants, or immigration, that is causing a problem. It’s a lack of housing that we are trying to deal with. The previous Census shows birth rate in Havering is dramatically increasing – that’s why we are ending up with more people living in Havering.”
It is not just housing in the borough that people are worried about –– the number of people who don’t speak English and the changing ethnic makeup of the area also concerns residents.
Jake Moyes, 19, of Rush Green Gardens, Rush Green, said: “I hate it when you walk down the road and you hear people talk another language.
“I think if you are in England you should talk English.”
He guessed that 30 per cent of people in Havering do not speak English as their first language.
However, Havering has the highest proportion of people in England and Wales who speak English as their main language. Less than 5 per cent of residents don’t speak English as their first language.
Molly Dobisz, 17, of Warren Drive, Elm Park, who described herself as “quite a racist person”, guessed that there are “more black people than white people” in Havering and at least 60pc of them are not white British.
But the proportion of people in Havering who are not white British is 17pc and that includes white Australians and Canadians not just black people.