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RESEARCH REVEALS NEGLECTED NEEDS OF ENGLAND'S 'HIDDEN' SOMALI POPULATION

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A study into the housing experiences of England's Somali population calls into question whether local and national ...
A study into the housing experiences of England's Somali population calls into question whether local and national policies are adequately addressing some of the most basic needs of the country's diverse ethnic communities.

A report by researchers from Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research reveals a worrying picture of 'a hidden society...[where] extreme levels of deprivation and disadvantage are commonplace'.

The report's findings are based on five urban case studies of known Somali populations in London (Tower Hamlets and Ealing) and the cities of Sheffield, Liverpool and Bristol, using existing data sources, literature and research evidence, input from local authority officers, group discussions with Somali community group leaders and focus group sessions with key subgroups of the population.

In each case, the researchers found clear evidence that Somalis were being disadvantaged by broad brush official definitions of their ethnicity that served to deny their distinct practical and cultural needs. Somali lives and experiences are revealed to be shaped by a unique combination of factors - culture, language, religious beliefs and practises, history of settlement - that are being denied by the shoe-horning of the Somali population into wider ethnic categories such as 'African Caribbean' or 'Black African'.

According to Mohammed Abdullah, co-ordinator of the Sahil Housing Association,

'This report provides solid evidence and should be essential reading for local authorities and housing associations in towns and cities wherever Somali people are living {and} represents the beginning, rather than the end, of a concerted effort to recognise and respond to the needs of the Somali population in Britain.'

Britain's Somali population dates back over a century in many areas, notably port cities such as Cardiff, East London, Bristol and Liverpool, where seamen often settled. Later in the last century many moved on to work in heavy ind ustry in areas such as Birmingham, Sheffield and Derby. The population has grown with the arrival of women and children from 1960 onwards and with the flow of individuals seeking sanctuary from violent civil unrest and conflict later in the 20th century.

According to the report's authors, Ian Cole and David Robinson,

'The, evidence we present in this report suggests that the rhetoric of recognising diversity has not yet been fully translated into practice - certainly not for the Somali community.

'Progress is being made towards recognising diversity in British society building on experiences as varied as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and recent race relations legislation. Gradual improvements in understanding of minority ethnic housing needs and the increasing development of discrete local minority ethnic housing strategies suggest a serious effort to sensitise housing services to ethnic diversity within society both nationally and locally. But recognising diversity demands more than blanket policies. The diverse needs and requirements of different groups need to be recognised and appreciated.'

'This report reveals how the needs and aspirations of some groups are being denied. The consequences for these hidden groups can be significant. Targeted provision focusing on minority ethnic needs is often insensitive to hidden groups, resource allocation often bypasses organisations working with these groups and boundaries are in danger of being constructed between different minority ethnic communities as they scramble for recognition and resources.'

'Minority ethnic communities do have shared experiences - in particular, of racism - but pursuing equality, in housing as in any policy realm, also demands that diversity is recognised.'

Notes

1. The research was funded by the Housing Corporation. The research was funded by the Housing Corporation in partnership with the Sahil Housing Association.

2. The new report, Somali Housing Experience in England by Ian Cole a nd David Robinson, can be obtained from CRESR, Sheffield Hallam University, City Campus, Sheffield S1 1WB (tel 0114 225 3073) or http://www.shu.ac.uk/cresr/pub/index.html

3. The report's five-page Executive Summary is attached.

For further information: contact Laura Mark (head of public relations) on 0114 225 4187.

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