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Housing association CEO issues General Election cohesion challenge

Unity Homes and Enterprise Chief Executive Ali Akbor

A major national conference has heard a call for politicians to listen to concerns raised by the BME housing association sector on behalf of communities who often feel “ignored or harmed by ill-informed decisions made in Whitehall.”

Speaking earlier today, Ali Akbor – chief executive of Leeds-based Unity Homes and Enterprise – told the Equality and Diversity Network summit in London that Brexit was “only serving to widen the gaps that BME housing associations are working so hard to close.”

He said: “Brexit has created deep divides in our society, and people of BME origin have arguably been the biggest victims of all.

“It has placed great strains on community cohesion. It has also led to a sickening increase in racially-aggravated attacks.

“Most often, the victims are British people living in the land of their birth yet made to feel like outsiders.

“Brexit will be dealt with one way or the other in the time ahead. Whatever the outcome, we must work harder than ever to rebuild bridges and create a society at ease with itself for the longer term.”

The Unity chief executive made reference to the Race Disparity Audit, last updated by the Government in 2018, which confirmed that BME citizens living in this country are more likely to be in poor health, do less well in education, be unemployed or live in neighbourhoods with high levels of deprivation.

But he said that BME housing associations had a key role to play in finding solutions to these problems.

“Dare I say that we generally understand the communities we serve better than many decision-makers, elected and unelected?” he asked.

“Raising dissent on behalf of communities who feel ignored or who are harmed by ill-informed decisions is an important part of what we do.

“But so too is providing better answers to the questions the Government, in particular, claims it is seeking to answer.”

Mr Akbor said that BME National, a collective of more than 45 housing associations working in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, had recently produced a document in partnership with the National Housing Federation.

Entitled Homes for BME Communities: Our Vision for Diverse and Inclusive Places Where Everyone Can Thrive, the Unity chief executive explained that the document incorporates specific requests to the Government in four policy areas, “as well as committing BME housing associations to play our full part in addressing the challenges that confront us all.”

He told the audience that, whilst the nature of the political climate after the General Election was unclear, BME housing associations “must remain loyal to our guiding principles.”

Mr Akbor continued: “We should remember the proud histories of our respective – and respected – organisations and the reasons why they were established all those years ago.

“Social purpose is key to everything we do. We are there to make a positive difference to neighbourhoods and the lives of those who live in them.

“Whilst acknowledging our past, our work must always be carried out with an eye on what comes next. That means bringing communities with us, journeying together and, as far as possible, keeping everyone on board.

“We must harness the abundance of talent in our communities and encourage people, especially young people, to engage with each other and use their abilities for the collective good.”

He concluded: “BME housing associations are uniquely placed to protect the vulnerable, to understand concerns and make this land a better place.

“I am proud of what we do and that pride deepens every day.”