The Equality Commission has found that the Department for Social Development failed to comply with a number of its Equality Scheme commitments in relation to two housing policy proposals ‘Facing the Future: Housing Strategy for Northern Ireland 2012-2017’ and ‘Building Successful Communities’.
This project, commissioned by the Equality Commission and carried out by the Chartered Institute of Housing and the University of Ulster, outlines minimum standards of accommodation for Travellers, as defined by existing domestic and international legislation and policy commitments.
Addressing the needs of Travellers in terms of their accommodation is central to tackling the deep-seated social exclusion experienced by this diverse group. Adequate provision is imperative in facilitating access to employment opportunities, formal education, healthcare and other key services.
The role of government, both at a central and local level, and of key government agencies is critical to the provision of adequate and suitable accommodation for Travellers that meets their needs, promotes their equality of opportunity and promotes good relations among Traveller households and between Travellers and others members of a community.
We have commissioned new research into current housing and communities’ inequalities in Northern Ireland.
The research objectives are:
For each equality ground identified by Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, a comprehensive and updated picture (data permitting) of any key inequalities evident in patterns and trends in access to and availability of adequate, appropriate, affordable and sustainable housing and/or accommodation in Northern Ireland.
For each equality ground, an overview of potential barriers and enablers in accessing adequate, appropriate, affordable and sustainable housing and/or accommodation (considering housing tenure and movement within the tenure) including an assessment of any changing dynamics.
A distillation from the above ground by ground consideration, of the most substantive overarching key housing inequalities in Northern Ireland.
Refinement of the draft recommendations, by involvement of relevant stakeholders via an expert seminar to explore emerging findings of the research, with a view to informing the final report and associated recommendations.
A summary of any relevant wider observations noted during the project - including any views regarding data quality/availability; analysis or policy relevant issues that emerge through the course of the research.
We will use this research when working towards an update of our 2007 ‘Statement of Key Inequalities in Northern Ireland’ (pdf)
The Commission’s 2011 ‘Equality Awareness Survey’ measured attitudes towards specific equality groups; perceptions and experiences of unfair treatment; and awareness of a range of equality related matters amongst the general public in Northern Ireland.
This survey found:
Regarding negative attitudes – when questioned ‘would you mind or not mind having a type of person as a neighbour':
- 54% would mind a traveller
- 40% would mind having a transgender person
- 37% someone with mental ill health
When asked people if they would mind (a little or lot) a person as a work colleague, 35% would mind a traveler, 35% would mind transgender people, 26% as person of mental health.
The Equality Commission’s remit in this area stems from our duties under the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 to promote equality of opportunity, affirmative action and to work for the elimination of religious/political discrimination, and our duty to offer advice to public authorities in relation to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Given that flags and emblems may have a general relevance to these provisions and, indeed, have the potential to impact adversely on equality of opportunity and good relations, the Commission has a remit to provide guidance.
Any advice provided by the Commission is based on our understanding of the legislative provisions within our remit, associated Codes of Practice and on any relevant case law. The Commission does not have the power to issue directives regarding the flying, or not flying, of the Union Flag. It is for each local Council to determine their own policies on the display of the Union Flag, taking account of the full context in which they operate.
In the event of any complaint of discrimination in respect of the display of flags or emblems, it would be a matter for the Fair Employment Tribunal, or courts, to decide if discrimination had occurred taking into account all of the circumstances of each individual case. Councils, like other employers, often take their own legal advice with regard to their own policies in this area, to ensure that any particular circumstances are considered.
The Commission is of the view that the flying of the Union Flag must be viewed within the context in which it is flown or displayed. Factors affecting the context include the purpose, manner, location and frequency with which flags are flown. The Union Flag is the national flag of the United Kingdom and, arising therefrom, has a particular status symbolising the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. On the other hand, the Union Flag is often used to mark sectional community allegiance. There is a world of difference between these two approaches. Thus, for example, while it is appropriate, in the Commission’s view, for a local Council to fly the Union Flag at its Civic Headquarters, the rationale for its display at every Council location, facility and leisure centre would be questionable.
This publication identified housing as one of six broad areas where inequalities exist and need to be addressed, accepting the premise that housing is a basic human need and provides the foundation for family and community life. The Commission’s 2007 Statement on Key Inequalities (pdf) highlighted "Inequalities in Housing and Communities" as a key theme for action, noting five priority issues:
Segregation in housing, including inefficient housing allocations
The lack of suitable housing for disabled people
The lack of adequate housing and/or accommodation for Travellers
Black and Minority Ethnic community, in particular migrant workers and homelessness
The document was produced in very different circumstances to those which prevail today. At that time, it was noted that we were living in ‘a time of increased economic prosperity and confidence in Northern Ireland’s future’, while observing that there were still pockets of deprivation, poverty and poor housing. Housing stress was increasing with growing numbers of people and families presenting as and being accepted as statutorily homeless and a growing ‘affordability gap’ for house purchasers.
Investigations relating to Communities/Housing: