How Gentrification Is Affecting BAME & Migrant Communities.
Guest Contributor: Roz Dicks
Between 1948 and 1971, half a million people came to the UK from the Caribbean and were known as ‘The Windrush Generation’; a name which refers to a particular ship, the HMT Empire Windrush, which brought 500 passengers to the UK, on invitation, to meet post-war worker shortages.
The Evening Standard on 6 June 1968 carried the headline ‘Welcome Home’ to celebrate the safe arrival of this much-needed workforce, many of whom were children with no travel documents. In 1971 the Immigration Act gave Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK indefinite leave to remain. Having been temporarily housed in Brixton, South London – which had become derelict throughout the war – the incomers rapidly made the area their home.
In savage contrast to this welcome half a century ago, Theresa May’s government created the ‘Hostile Environment’ Policy in 2012, in a bid to demonstrate the government’s tough approach to immigration. Accordingly, as early as 2013 the Home Office was notified that a substantial number of people from the Windrush generation were classified as ‘undocumented immigrants’, and a series of stealthy detention centre imprisonments and deportations began, targeting citizens who had been living in the UK for their entire lives.
These events were not formally addressed in parliament until 2018 when the press had picked up on the injustice of the government’s stance, dubbing it ‘The Windrush Scandal’. Despite a furor of negative publicity, the Home Office still fails to recognise this policy as racial discrimination and on February 11th this year (2020), a flight carrying 17 people described as ‘foreign national offenders’ departed for the Caribbean, despite the passengers being established UK residents. A last-minute court ruling did save 25 of the potential deportees, despite an appeal against it from the Home Office.
Yet the fallout from Windrush is not confined to Black migrants; the ripples of a ‘Hostile Environment’ continue to spread relentlessly to snare the wider BAME community.
As well as facing direct individual attacks from the Home Office, BAME communities face the more modern threat of displacement through the tsunami of ‘gentrification’. The housing crisis has been ongoing in the UK for decades and London, in particular, is a chaotic contradiction of soup kitchens and craft ale gastropubs co-existing on hundreds of streets.
Areas such as the once notoriously squalid Kings Cross, Barking, Dagenham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Camden, Greenwich, Haringey, Islington, Newham, and Elephant & Castle have been ‘revamped’ by regeneration in the form of wholesale bulldozing. Communities have been shattered and a diaspora of displaced residents scattered far and wide, as London is transformed into a land of ubiquitous artisan coffee shops and £2m penthouse apartments.
There are those who suggest that gentrification is beneficial since the process creates more development, rapid investment, and support of ‘lifestyle’ amenities. The influx of affluent residents is directly connected to an increase in resources for schools, shopping, and leisure which leads to employment. Meticulous planning for the gradual introduction of gentrification has been praised as ‘socioeconomically beneficial’ – except this doesn’t tell the full story. Instead of community integration, there is selective development and enforcement of distinction between different areas.
Gentrification seeks to exclude low-income minorities and drive them out of sight. The number of homeless people and families living in Bed & Breakfast accommodation has risen by 250% since 2009, and ‘gentrification’ uproots them to far-flung boroughs where they are forced to pick up the pieces. Soaring rents and the demand for shiny new developments incentivises landlords to sell out to the highest bidder. The cycle of rising property values eventually means only the biggest investors can continue to capitalise as homes are demolished to make way for luxury living. If the commercial stakes are high, existing residents are subject to varieties of harassment and persecution to get them out.
Social casualties will be the most marginalised groups, with BAME communities uprooted and evictions targeting, in particular, the elderly, whose physical frailty makes it more challenging to resist the actions that landlords take to remove tenants. Elderly people are more deeply affected by social changes around them, citing loss of friendships or community networks as a reason to move and eventually giving up on their homes as they succumb to the inevitable.
Asylum seekers who have been accepted into this country and thrust into the most basic of low-income accommodation find themselves once again in the firing line of vicious discrimination, with Battersea – an area home to a growing community of Somali, Afghan and Syrian refugees – undergoing regeneration.
Gentrification continues to prevail because of a staggering lack of policies that value community input, offer fair and appropriate rehousing policies, or provide affordable homes. Without policies that address the inhumanity of such blatant racial and social cleansing, damaging inequalities are free to soar.
Guest Contributor: Roz Dicks
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