Social Housing

Housing has been at the heart of British politics for over a century and responsibility for new supply has ricocheted between the public and private sectors since the First World War. In 1919, UK Parliament passed The Housing and Town Planning Actxlviii (the Addison Act) which was seen as a watershed in the provision of corporation housing and the first ‘council homes’ appeared. Incentivising building with financial subsidies, 508,000 social dwellings were constructed over a fifteen-year periodxlix.

Post-World War 2, under the Churchill government, the Temporary Prefabricated Housing Programme of 1944l allowed experimentation in building methods and a new form of construction was pioneered, commonly called ‘PRC’ (Pre-Cast Reinforced Concrete) construction. Houses became quick to assemble and required less skilled labour than traditional building methods. In the decade after 1945, 1.5 million social housing dwellings were completed and demand for accommodation was somewhat alleviatedli.

social housing - March 1949: Aneurin Bevan opens the 500th permanent house built in Elstree since the end of WW2 (Getty Images)

The Housing Act of 1974lii introduced state funding for housing associations and allowed private, non-profit making organisations to provide low-cost ‘social housing’ for people in need of a home. These hybrid formations allowed housing to newly integrate with the delivery of public services, encouraging the evolution of mixedsector funding models. The buoyancy of this period resulted in significant and continued growth and transformation of the sector: Today, there are 1.3 million housing association tenants in Englandliii.

In August 1980, under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, The Housing Act 1980liv was passed by parliament, allowing the introduction of ‘Right to Buy’ council homes across the UK. Changing the landscape of social housing forever, nationally, 1 million houses were sold within 10 years and the number of homes managed by London’s councils shrunk from 840,000 in 1984, to just over 500,000 by the end of the centurylv.

Britain is now facing a serious shortage of local authority-owned affordable housing. As of April 2015, across the whole of England, 1,643,000 residential dwellings were owned by a local councillvi. Astonishingly, as many as 83 boroughs in England now hold no self-owned social housing at all, with some further 65 areas hosting fewer than 100 unitslvii. To illustrate further; in 1979, 42% of Britons lived in council homeslviii. Today, that figure is just under 8%lix.


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Copyright © by Amy.F.Varle, January 2018.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.

The views and opinions expressed in this report and its content are those of the author and not of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, which has no responsibility or liability for any part of the report.



When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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