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Housing minister in racism row apologises for “inappropriate” words

The minister at the centre of reforms to the estate and lettings industry sector has apologised for what she calls “inappropriate language” discovered in leaked emails.

Heather Wheeler - who has led for the government on issues such as referral fees, some aspects of leasehold reform and elements of modernising the house buying process - sent the emails in October 2017 before being appointed a minister.

In one sent to a homeless charity, and now reported in The Guardian over the weekend, Wheeler described rough sleepers in her constituency as “the traditional type, old tinkers, knife-cutters wandering through”.

The email emerged during filming of a Ross Kemp documentary to be shown on ITV in July; it will investigate apparent discrepancies in official rough sleeping figures in England used to determine funding to combat homelessness.

Ironically Wheeler is now herself the lead housing minister on the homelessness issue.

The Guardian reports that Stephen Robertson, chief executive of the Big Issue Foundation, has called on Wheeler to quit as a minister. 

“The use of pejorative terminology to describe marginalised people has no place in this day and age; it serves only to stigmatise individuals, questioning their fundamental legitimacy and reinforcing the impossibility of tackling societal challenges” he says.

“This is not a matter of undue political correctness, it reflects the need we have to embrace diversity and equality in modern Britain, stamping out obsolete attitudes once and for all. In light of her comments it is only appropriate for Heather Wheeler to resign” he continues.

In an official apology in her position as a minister at the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, Wheeler has told the newspaper that she is sorry for her “inappropriate language” which she now says it “not at all representative of the great cultural contribution and rich heritage that the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities make to this country”.

Labour MP Alex Cunningham, a shadow housing minister, has also called for Wheeler to go.

On the broader state of homelessness in Britain, The Guardian reports: “Wheeler, who promised when she took the job to step down if she failed to halve rough sleeping in five years, has heralded an apparent two per cent fall in rough sleeping in England in 2018 despite accusations that some councils have deliberately under-reported the figures.”

It says South Derbyshire, where Wheeler is an MP, reported having no rough sleepers in 2018. But the Ross Kemp film crew interviewed a man who claimed to have been sleeping rough in the area for 32 years.

You can see The Guardian report here.

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