The Greater Manchester Housing Providers’ collective approach to tackling inequalities.

It’s safe to say that 2020 well and truly held the mirror up to the deep-rooted inequities in our society. From the disproportionate way the pandemic has affected certain communities, to the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements – it is clear that there are systemic issues and challenges which mean many people still experience disadvantage based on their protected characteristics.

It’s not surprising that over the last three years the sector has moved equality and diversity back up to the top of the agenda. But while there is lots of discussion, awareness raising and data monitoring – what are housing providers actually doing to address these inequalities and what actions are being taken to improve?

The Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP), a partnership of Housing Providers who operate across the city region, have recently published the DICE report – which is the result of research carried out by Irwell Valley Homes on behalf of the GMHP Diversity, Inclusion, Community Cohesion and Equalities (DICE) group to explore this.

The DICE Report from Irwell Valley Homes.

The methodology involved an online survey which collected benchmarking data to establish a picture of where organisations stand now, but most importantly, provides an evidence base to shape and inform work going forward. The report also provides a snapshot of the strategies and initiatives from the 23 housing providers who took part which range in size and scale from a small specialist BAME provider, to large national associations.

Chair of the DICE Group and CEO of Irwell Valley Homes, Sasha Deepwell explains: “The DICE report sets out the state of play in relation to our organisations and our services to customers and colleagues. With a baseline to work from, the survey informs our priorities for collective action to address inequalities. Collectively the GMHP partners house one in five people living in Greater Manchester so the findings of the report and the impact we can have as a result are significant.”

The report found a lot of good will from housing providers. Most participating organisations have strategies in place to tackle inequalities, some have action plans and many use accreditation frameworks to improve. Some also take positive action where employees, applicants or board members who share a protected characteristic experience disadvantage, or where participation is disproportionately low.

There are some fantastic examples of best practice within the report, in relation to increasing board and leadership diversity and listening to and acting on the diverse voices of colleagues and customers. And perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the research was the honesty and willingness of the partners to share their data, action and approaches openly, with everyone named in the report alongside their data.

However, the report clearly shows that diversity is a continuing challenge, particularly at board and senior team level where black, minority ethnic and disabled people are still under-represented when compared to the characteristics of the wider workforce, customers and localities where the participating associations operate.

Around half of the organisations who took part felt their board and leadership teams did not reflect the diversity of their customer base, but the diversity profile of the wider workforce was more reflective of this. The monitoring data confirmed this. However, the percentage of BAME people within the workforce still remains below the percentage within the customer base for the majority of organisations.

Cynthia Alloyda, Customer Board Member at Salix Homes says: “We need to see more diversity on boards. We need to see proper representation so that everyone can be heard and so that action can be taken. Not just for people like me, but for everyone in the community.”

The report also highlights gaps in the data which mirror those identified in the Inside Housing survey of 2019, which highlighted the absence of data around sexual orientation. The lack of data on LGBT colleagues, board members and customers means there is no way to identify issues or measure progress. It also raises the question that a response of ‘rather not say’ may be a marker of a lack of trust in how the data will be used.

One of the examples of best practice in the report is the work that HousePourd North West are doing to address this. Tara Kelly from HouseProud North West said: “Home is of central importance to LGBTQ+ residents, because it should be where they can freely express their sexual orientation and gender identity without fear or prejudice.  Yet LGBTQ+ residents continue to experience discrimination in relation to their housing. The HouseProud Pledge scheme has been designed to help housing providers work with involved LGBTQ+ residents to foster positive relationships, increase visibility, improve understanding ensure that LGBTQ+ residents can have input at a strategic level.”

What was equally worrying, is the report found that where data was available and monitoring more extensive, most organisations were honest about their lack of utilisation of the data they collect. While some felt customer insight and profiling information was well used, the overall perception was that the data could be used better.

Sasha adds: “The report is having a significant impact, with housing providers in other regions adopting our freely shared methodology. This will give an even clearer picture of the state of the sector in relation to tackling inequalities and the challenges we must address.

She concludes: “Being honest about what our data is telling us and how we are responding to issues is a great starting point. But that’s what it must be, a starting point for action. Now we have a baseline, we can measure the effectiveness of the actions we’re taking to improve. We are committed to repeating the DICE report in 18 months to check that what gets measured gets done, holding ourselves and each other to account for collectively moving forward to tackle decades of embedded inequalities.”

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