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Social Housing in the United Kingdom

There is a housing shortage in the UK, and those at the bottom of the ladder are the worst affected.

Social rented housing is housing owned and managed by local authorities and other registered providers, for which target rents are determined through the national rent regime.
Affordable rented housing is housing let by registered providers of social housing to households who are eligible for social rented housing. Affordable rent is not subject to the national rent regime but is subject to other rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent. For more detailed information, follow the link below:
Local authorities were not able to let properties at affordable rent until 2012-13

"Housing Benefit" and "Universal Credit" may also need explaining

The rise and fall of council housing

The following was published, behind a paywall, on https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/home/the-rise... Downloaded on 13 May 2018

A new book by John Boughton traces the history of council housing from its origins in 19th century Liverpool and London, to slum clearances, the Right to Buy, right up to the present day disputes over regeneration and concerns over safety following the Grenfell Tower fire.

"Muncipal Dreams: the rise and fall of council housing" also provides description of some of the most well-known housing estates and the story behind them.

In an extract from the book below, Mr Boughton argues that housing polices in recent years have led to the ‘welfarisation’ of council housing, which had one time been used to house affluent people:

Looking back at council housing’s history, we saw how in its early years it housed a relatively affluent working class, those in steady employment who could be reliably expected to pay its comparatively high rents.

In this sense, councils were like any other landlord: they wanted ‘respectable’ tenants for their housing and a guarantee that its capital costs would be paid off and running expenses met.

This should remind us that council housing is not, in any meaningful sense, ‘subsidised’.

Construction loans are repaid and, in most cases, the homes themselves become an asset, not only to those who live in them but a financial – and income-generating – asset to the local authority. To those to whom council housing did not cater – the ‘submerged tenth’, the ‘residuum’, the casually employed, low-waged or unemployed slum working class, a ‘filtering up’ theory was applied.

They, it was hoped, would move into the slightly less slummy housing vacated by their immediate superiors.

This changed, but changed slowly.

Slum clearance in the 1930s combined with the impact of the Great Depression brought a poorer working class into council housing for the first time, and with it some of the perceived problems and demonising stereotypes applied to council tenants more generally in recent years.

The policy shift reflected a political division between Conservative politicians who believed council housing should properly be reserved for the neediest (the market would provide for the rest) and those on the left who saw it as serving ‘general needs’.

Full employment and rising living standards after the Second World War reinvigorated the sense that council housing catered predominantly for a relatively prosperous and aspirational working class. But, from the 1970s, politics and economics combined to lower its status and that of its community. The National Rent Rebate Scheme implemented in 1973 (it became housing benefit in 1982), increasing access to council housing for the less well-off, was a significant factor in the shift.

The 1977 Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, prioritising council housing for the most vulnerable and cementing a system of needs-based allocations, was central to it.

Right to Buy and the near cessation of new build in the 1980s was determinant.

The concomitant collapse – or destruction – of the traditional manufacturing economy and loss of jobs that went with it was, in this context, just a bonus.

All that made for, in one word, residualisation: the increasing confinement of council housing (and by this time social housing) to the poorest of our citizens and, disproportionately, those classified as ‘vulnerable’ in some way. (That estates continued, in fact, to house a cross-section, albeit a narrower one, of our community goes without saying.)

In the 1980s, residualisation may have been a partly unintended consequence of housing policies pursued with varying ideological intent.

Since 2010, and more so since the return of single-party Conservative government in 2015, we’ve seen something further: welfarisation – ‘a conception of social housing as a very small, highly residualised sector catering only for the very poorest, and those with additional social “vulnerabilities”, on a short-term “ambulance” basis’.

To some extent, this replicates the agenda of Conservatives in the 1930s and, with Harold Macmillan’s abolition of the ‘General Needs’ subsidy in 1954, it represents in its present form something deeper and more dangerous. In the years after 1945, we talked first of ‘social security’ – a universalist provision protecting all sections of the populace.

Now we use the language of ‘welfare’ adopted from the US and with it all the freighted notions of the scrounging underclass popularised by TV exposés of those on benefits.

From this perspective, those who need social security – I would say ‘depend’ on it but for the political use of the term ‘dependency’ to signify some failure of will and character – are placed on society’s margins and stigmatised.

‘Council estates’ – the preferred term for the negative connotations it carries despite the huge changes in the social housing sector – take their place in this dystopic pantheon. The practice of welfarisation has taken a number of forms.

The practice of welfarisation has taken a number of forms in recent years, but perhaps the most powerful has been the attempt to end lifetime security of tenure for those living in social housing, made first by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in office from 2010 to 2015 and latterly by the Conservatives alone.

Technically, lifetime security only came into place in 1980 – a by-product of Right to Buy. The understanding was always that tenants who paid their rent, and otherwise behaved responsibly, enjoyed a home for life though they have, of course, always been subject to eviction for breaches of their conditions of tenancy.

This in itself, to ideologues of the Right, was a form of dependency, inhibiting the ambition and social and geographical mobility appropriate to citizens of a free market.

To others, and I remember the late social scientist and geographer Doreen Massey, raised on the Wythenshawe Estate, making this point eloquently at a housing conference, it has offered precisely the security which has enabled their lives to flourish.

In presenting the 2011 Localism Act which empowered social landlords to offer ‘flexible’, fixed-term tenancies of two to five years in duration, however, ministers offered apparently more pragmatic arguments. (Housing associations already had the right to offer assured short-term shorthold tenancies but this was hedged by the requirement that they also ‘offer and issue the most secure form of tenancy compatible with the purpose of the housing and the sustainability of the community’.)

It was, the then housing minister Grant Shapps suggested, ‘no longer right to require that every social tenancy should be for life – regardless of the household’s particular circumstances’.

Critics pointed to the irony that the threat of losing a council tenancy through an advantageous change of circumstance (new-found employment or a better-paid job, for example) might be a disincentive to precisely the enterprise the legislation was supposed to encourage.

Shapps claimed too that the bill gave councils and housing associations more freedom in managing their housing stock and would allow them, in particular, to address the problem of under-occupancy – the fact that some tenants had more bedrooms than their needs apparently warranted. The latter was not something viewed as a problem in owner-occupied homes, but in the case of social housing the stated aim, as Shapps argued, was to ‘create a more flexible system so that scarce public resources can be focused on those who need it most’.

The thinly veiled implications of this – that the homes of social housing tenants were regarded as a gift to be granted or withdrawn according to higher interests and that the sector as a whole be reserved to the neediest – hardly need highlighting.

Some of the more aggressively proactive housing associations welcomed the scheme, those labelled by the housing academics Suzanne Fitzpatrick and Beth Watts as either ‘interventionists’ (keen to ‘improve’ their tenants and move them on and up) or as ‘utility maximisers’ (wanting to manage their stock as efficiently and as commercially as possible).

More traditional housing associations and Labour-controlled local authorities were generally hostile, while flagship Tory councils such as Wandsworth and Barnet embraced the legislation and its underlying ethos.

Overall, however, by 2015 only some 15 per cent of new general needs tenancies were being offered on a fixed-term basis.

This was clearly the wrong sort of ‘localism’ and, after the 2015 general election, a newly unfettered single-party Conservative government proposed in its 2015 Housing and Planning Bill to compel the use of fixed-term, two-to-five-year tenancies for nearly all new council house lettings. Powerful opposition in the Lords forced concessions.

For certain groups such as older and disabled people, the maximum tenancy period was raised to ten years and it was also accepted that secure tenancies should cover the full period of a child’s schooling to the age of nineteen.

These were concessions which, although confined to those judged ‘vulnerable’, confirmed practically the arguments made by those who opposed short-term tenancies more broadly: that it was precisely the security and stability of so-called tenancies for life which enabled individuals and communities to grow.

Another component in the Conservatives’ welfarisation agenda came with ‘Pay to Stay’.

Again, it came with a ‘common sense’ proposition – that it was ‘simply not fair that hard-working people [were] subsidising the lifestyles of those on higher than average incomes’.

Even better, it came with a suitably (in government terms) ugly face – the late Bob Crow who, as the ‘union boss’ of RMT, was making life difficult for commuters while earning a six-figure, executive salary and living in a council house.

The Telegraph reckoned there were 5,000 others earning over £100,000 similarly placed – an impressive example of council homes promoting social mobility, you might think, though in truth the figures are dubious.

The initial plan, announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in the July 2015 Budget, was straightforward: social housing households earning over £40,000 in London and over £31,000 elsewhere in the country would be required to pay the equivalent of local private sector rents.

The Tory-controlled Local Government Association – alongside most working in the housing field – provided the obvious retort: first, that such incomes (particularly where there was more than one breadwinner or a number of dependent children) couldn’t properly be considered high-earning; and second, that the proposed rules disincentivised ‘hard-working people’ and those aspiring to earn more.

A study commissioned by the association concluded that the policy would hit 214,000 households across England and that up to 70,000 – unable to afford the new rent levels – would be forced to leave the homes and areas in which they lived.

By October, the new Housing Minister Gavin Barwell was suggesting that a tapered system (in which rents rose more gradually in line with incomes) might operate to offset the undeniably drastic effects of the original ill-conceived proposal.

One year later, the scheme was scrapped; councils and housing associations were to be given discretion.

The government had listened, Barwell claimed. In reality, practicalities had, for once, outweighed ideology.”

Municipal Dreams: the rise and fall of council housing by John Boughton is published by Verso Books and is available now on hardback.

A review of Municipal Dreams: the rise and fall of council housing

Eagerly anticipated, well publicized and timely.

This book by blogger John Boughton sets out to tell the story of the history of Council housing from the Victorian period to today.

Clearly Londoncentric, it is a thought provoking work from someone who is knowledgeable enough to tell the story, whilst avoiding the approach from a political viewpoint.

This from a self-acknowledged Labour foot soldier in the Thatcher years it is no mean feat in itself. The major provincial cities are recognised, often a few paragraphs, sometimes one paragraph and occasionally just a sentence.

Bizarrely Carlisle and Hull feature more than one might expect, even more bizarre, Walsall is awarded City status.

Liverpool gets several entries over the years, but no mention of the Housing Action Trust success, whilst Hull’s Housing Action Trust is given real prominence.

Social housing or affordable housing?

Social Housing included council houses with rents set at about 50% of local market rents, but was replaced in about 2013/2014. Normally, such levels did not qualify for Housing Benefit
Affordable housing rents are set at up to 80% of the local market rent, which often results in some of the rent being paid by Housing benefit.

How 'placemaking' is tearing apart social housing communities Carpenters estate in Newham no-one could use right to return
Nye Jones; The Guardian, 2018-12-27

Minister admits Tory policies may be a cause of rising homelessness The housing secretary, James Brokenshire, has admitted Conservative policies may be to blame for rising levels of homelessness
Sarah Marsh; The Guardian, 2018-12-24

Social housing: more than just a roof over people's heads Providing additional services for residents, such as laundry facilities, can help build trust in housing providers.
Abby Young-Powell; The Guardian, 2018-11-23

At least 320,000 homeless people in Britain, says Shelter annual increase in homeless, 15 cities named, including Milton Keynes
Patrick Butler ; The Guardian, 2018-11-22

Construction of homes for social rent drops 80% in a decade 6,463 homes in 2017-18, 1.25m families on waiting list
Richard Partington ; The Guardian, 2018-11-22

No poor people through that door – another sign of the UK’s growing class divide class divide
Faiza Shaheen; The Guardian, 2018-11-02

Why are so many people sleeping rough on Britain’s streets? homeless
Jamie Doward and Amy Walker; The Observer, 2018-10-27

Affordable land would mean affordable housing. affordable housing
Alastair Parvin; The Guardian, 2018-10-25

The radical solution to homelessness: no-strings homes Under Housing First, rough sleepers are treated as if they deserve a roof over their head rather than being made to earn it
Aditya Chakrabortty; The Guardian, 2018-09-12

PlaceShapers - network of Housing Associations "We Care, We Work, We Build"
Sinead Butters; web site retrieved on, 2018-08-08

Realise charity - charitable arm of Aspire Housing help people in Staffordshire to progress in their education and gain employment
web site retrieved on, 2018-08-08

Soaring rents rose 60% faster than pay since 2011 – Shelter rent, pay
Julia Kollewe; The Guardian, 2018-08-03

Shelter warns of leap in working homeless as families struggle homeless, rents
Patrick Butler ; The Guardian, 2018-07-23

May’s housing cash pledge is not enough, council leaders warn Council houses
Tom Wall; The Guardian, 2018-07-21

Universal credit savaged by public spending watchdog NAO says core claims about flagship welfare programme are based on unproven assumptions
Patrick Butler; The Guardian, 2018-06-15

More than 1m families waiting for social housing in England only 290,000 homes available
Press Association; The Guardian, 2018-06-09

Social housing is not just a safety net for the few excessive rents, the charity Shelter
Sayeeda Warsi; The Guardian, 2018-04-29

Almost 30,000 lone parent families made homeless in England in 2017 housing
Hannah Richardson; BBC News, 2018-03-24

Homelessness is a European problem. All governments must act to end it housing
Lisa Mckenzie; The Guardian, 2018-03-23

Councils still without extra powers to crack down on empty homes Housing
Anushka Asthana and Peter Walker; The Guardian, 2018-03-05