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The single greatest failure of all governments since and including the Thatcher government was the lack of 'social or council house building'. It is the single main cause of much of the economic mess this country has found itself in over the last fifty years plus. It is the main reason why there is a minimum wage – implementing a minimum wage to help with housing/renting costs pushing the onus on the employer and making it hard for a family to survive.
Historically council housing is public housing that is rented to households who are unable to afford to rent from the private sector or buy their own home.
It has been called council housing due to the role of district and borough councils managing the housing. More recently Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), including semi-independent and not-for-profit housing associations, have played a larger role in providing and managing housing, consequently council and RSL housing is collectively known as ‘social housing’.
The underlying principle of council house provision is that historically the private sector was deemed unable to provide adequate housing for all and state intervention was required to ensure there was good quality affordable housing for low income households.
The growth of council housing in this country has been largely determined by central government policies and legislation. Throughout the twentieth century there has been a shifting emphasis between two main objectives - the need to build more houses in the face of shortages, especially in the post war periods, and the need to replace old designated slum areas of cities.
Each objective has received priority from Government at different times over the years but there has not been a consistent government policy on this.
From the 1970s, councils built increasingly fewer homes, concentrating instead on repairs to their now ageing housing stock. The introduction of the ‘Right to Buy’ under the Housing Act 1980 was a watershed event for councils all over the country. From the start local authorities have been able to sell off their houses, but until the introduction of the RTB they were not forced to do so.
Up until this time mostly the production of new homes exceeded the numbers sold, however following the passing of this policy, the period of growth halted and began a decline. Largely it led to many of the better-quality council properties being purchased by tenants who qualified for the right to buy. The number of houses managed by London’s councils had shrunk from 840,000 in 1984 to just over 500,000 by the end of the century. Another impact of the right to buy was that the majority of dwellings that were sold were houses rather than flats. So, the right to buy has reduced the supply of family houses and altered the balance of council housing stock in the country.
The population has increased by 10 million since 1965 and the social housing stock has fallen miserably behind that which i.e. required to maintain a constant supply.
Add to this the rise in illegal immigration now estimated at 1.4 million. Great Britain finds itself with 320,000 homeless of which 12,000 are military veterans.
Social housing needs to be taken out of the hands of local government and placed firmly into the hands of a central government agency. Relaxed rules on building needs to be put in place. Of course the problem of illegal immigration needs to dealt with, although there is a lot of rhetoric from Pritti Patel (2020) there seems to be little action on this by the government.