Branch Secretary :

Fighting to get housing associations to address racism

St Mungo’s staff appeal to new CEO Steve Douglas


Housing associations have marked black history month and there has been much talk of the importance of equality. But Unite reps and our members report a crushing lack of progress in the day to day life of housing associations. In St Mungo’s staff are appealing to new Chief Executive Steve Douglas to reconsider his rejection of Unites equality initiative.


Going backwards


Members comments across the sector echo this view: “sorry to be cynical but the real story of Black history as far as social housing is concerned is one of failure to act and deliver true diversity at all levels. I have seen too many examples of this over the past 40 years. Warm words followed by no action.” Writing in Inside Housing Tom Murtha rightly notes “those who experience the issues daily have argued elsewhere that the sector is going backwards.”


Unity over division


We hope that housing association managements will embrace Unite’s ‘Unity over Division Charter’ as a way of harnessing the desire for change that exists among their workforces. Unite has established such an agreement with Nottingham Community Housing Association and organisations in other sectors.


Black lives matter


In the wake of the huge Black Lives Mater movement many more black members have become active in Unite and the expect to see action. Unite will back them all the way.




Our experience is that, for all the lofty public statements, there is enormous resistance to improving equalities among senior management and, disappointingly, particularly among Human Resources directors.


‘Legal parasites’


For example, the current HR director at St Mungo’s, Helen Gilles authored an article in The Times about staff who bring equality claims headed, Stop legal parasites feeding on small business.” Despite the organisation’s public policies Unite members report this viewpoint is reflected in a belligerent approach in practice. The organisation recently lost a tribunal case in which Unite believes a worker was victimised for bringing a discrimination claim and members report this was the tip of an iceberg.


Charter ‘too political’


In this light staff at St Mungo’s are disappointed that new chief Executive Steve Douglas has rejected the charter on the basis that it would be too political. Unite urges him to reconsider. Taking a clear stand against racism and the far right cannot be too political, particularly for an organisation such as St Mungo’s that works with vulnerable people from ethnic minorities. An ironic response to a call for unity.




The fact that St Mungo’s collaborated in deportations is a stain on its reputation and poses real questions about the organisation’s management culture. While this serious error has been acknowledged, the organisation simply conducted an internal inquirey which failed to note the repeated warning about this practice from front line staff via their union. Rejecting the workers input once again is a serious mistake by Steve Douglas.


Champion of equalities


It may be that the position in St Mungo’s is far from the worst in the sector, but it is particularly disappointing as Steve has repeatedly presented himself as a champion of equalities in social housing.  The new National Housing Federation code of governance references a report by Steve on improving equality. Until fine words are reflected in action members will be extremely cynical about management initiatives.


Paul Kershaw, Chair Unite housing workers branch.












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