Immigration And The Housing Shortage

eric_pickles17:41 Friday 18th January 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: According to the Peterborough Conservative MP Stewart Jackson, the Government isn’t doing enough to prepare for the arrival of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania next year. It’s after MigrationWatch released figures suggesting up to 50,000 people could come here next year, when they get the right of free movement across the EU. The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles admitted that more migrants would have an impact on social and affordable homes. So we thought we’d try and shed some light on this, and find out what effect migration has already had on housing in Cambridgeshire. (TAPE)
ERIC PICKLES: The truth is I don’t think anybody entirely knows the number that are going to come from Bulgaria and from Romania. Given that we’ve got a housing shortage, any influx is going to cause problems, not just in terms of the housing market, but also on social housing markets.
JOZEF HALL: In Peterborough, the housing shortage is chronic. Sean Evans, Housing Needs Manager for the City Council.
We’ve currently got just in excess of 9,800 on our waiting list at the moment. The demand currently – we have maybe 200 new applications every month. At the same time we’re advertising around 100 new properties every month. So more people looking than properties available unfortunately.
JOZEF HALL: Peterborough has more than 12,000 affordable homes. Housing associations build them. The Council provides the tenants. But some long term Peterborians say that the wrong people are being prioritised. We’ve obtained figures showing that nearly a quarter of the city’s social housing stock is occupied by non-British residents. Now compare that to around 9% in central Cambridge, 4.6% in Fenland, and just 0.1% in South Cambs, and it’s clear that migrant levels here are adding to a shortage of supply.
CLLR CHARLES SWIFT: I know every blade of grass and every little bit of muck there is on the streets.
JOZEF HALL: Charlie Swift represents the North ward of the city. He has done for nearly 60 years. So what do you say Charlie? If we’ve got a British family and a Polish family both fighting for the one remaining affordable home, should it go to the British family by default?
CLLR CHARLES SWIFT: No. It should go to the family with the greatest need that’s been here the longest.
JOZEF HALL: Hang on a minute. The greatest need and being here the longest aren’t necessarily one and the same though, are they?
CLLR CHARLES SWIFT: No no. Definitely not.
JOZEF HALL: Should British people who’ve been here longer than the new migrants, should they take priority?
CLLR CHARLES SWIFT: Definitely yes. Definitely. There’s no question about that at all. If we can’t supply the necessary basic standard of life for these people, they should not be encouraged to come, and they should say there’s no room at the inn.
JOZEF HALL: But if they’re already here, if they’ve been here for several years, they’ve been paying their council tax, do they have as much a right to one of these homes as you or I?
CLLR CHARLES SWIFT: Oh definitely. But you’re trying to twist me, and I won’t have it. Are you with me? I’m just talking about ..
JOZEF HALL: I’m not trying to twist you. I’m trying to find out what you’re thinking.
CLLR CHARLES SWIFT: I’m just trying to tell you that people that have been here, born and bred, are having to live in the conditions that they are living in. We’re going backwards. Somebody has got to take stock and say, enough is enough.
JOZEF HALL: (REDACTED) came here from Poland six years ago. He lives in affordable housing. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t agree with Charlie Swift. Do you have any more or any less right to an affordable home here, do you think, than I do?
REDACTED: As long as I work here and pay taxes, then I think that I have the same right. If you work here and pay taxes here, you have the same right as I do.
JOZEF HALL: What about if I came to Poland? Would there be a similar thing available for me? Would I be able to get an affordable home?
REDACTED: I’m not sure we have schemes like that one.
JOZEF HALL: This time next year, Romanians and Bulgarians can come and live here if they wish to do so. The Government’s been fairly cagey with the number of people they expect to take that offer up. But Peterborough City Council say despite having a shortage of properties, they’ll do their very best to accommodate as many people as possible.
SEAN EVANS: Well we always have a duty to assist those people that present to us as homeless. We’ll always have a duty to offer advice and assistance to anybody that accesses the service. Unfortunately we’re not in a situation where a number of properties are going to spring up overnight, soi we have to work with what we’ve got. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Jozef Hall reporting there.