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Council house

From Academic Kids

The council house is a form of public housing found in the United Kingdom. Council houses were built and operated by local councils for the benefit of the local population. As of 2005, approximately 20 per cent of the country's housing stock is owned by local councils or by housing associations.

Council housing was generally typified by houses with generously sized rooms (compared to the bottom end of the private sector), particularly those built in the 1970s after the Parker Morris standards were introduced. However they also tended to be unimaginatively designed, and rigid council rules often forbade tenants "personalising" their houses. Council tenants also faced problems of mobility, finding it hard to move from one property to another as their families grew or shrank, or to seek work. Despite the building there was a constant demand for housing, and 'waiting lists' were maintained with preference being given to those in most housing need.

Contents

Origins

The pressure for decent housing arose from overcrowding in the large cities in the 19th century, and many social commentators (such as Octavia Hill) reported on the squalor, sickness and perceived immorality that arose. Some philanthropists had begun to provide housing in tenement blocks, while some factory owners built entire villages for their workers such as Saltaire (1853), Bournville (1879), Port Sunlight, and Silver End as late as 1925.

It was not until 1885, when a Royal Commission was held, that the state took an interest. This led to the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890. This Act encouraged local authorities to improve the housing in their areas. As consequence many local councils began building flats and houses in the early 20th century. The First World War indirectly provided a new impetus, when the poor physical health and condition of many urban recruits to the army was noted with shock and alarm. This led to a campaign known as Homes fit for heroes and in 1919 the Government first required councils to provide housing, helping them to do so through the provision of subsidies, under the Housing Act 1919. Many houses were built in cottage estates as in Downham Estate as well as in blocks of flats.

While new council housing had been built, little had been done to resolve the problem of inner city slums. This was to change with the Housing Act 1930, which required councils to prepare slum clearance plans, and some progress was made before World War II intervened.

Apogee

Following the Second World War there was a major boom in council house construction, since nearly one in three houses had been destroyed or damaged during its course. As well as this, slum clearance programmes were promoted.

In the immediate post-War years and well into the 1950s council house provision was shaped by the New Towns Act 1946 and the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. Houses were typically semi-detached or in small terraces. A three-bedroom semi-detached council house was typically built on a 7 by 7 yd (6.4 by 6.4 m) grid and at a density of no more than 12 houses per acre (337 m² per house), meaning that most houses had generous space around them. The new towns and many existing towns had countless estates built to this basic model.

For many working class people, this housing model provided the first experience of private garden space (usually front and rear) and the first private and indoor toilets and bathrooms.

Towards the end of the 1950s the influence of modernist architecture and the development of new construction techniques such as system building (a form of prefabrication) led to this model being abandoned in Britain's inner city areas. Instead Tower blocks became the preferred model. The argument was that more dwellings could be provided this way (a claim that research at the LSE has cast serious doubt on).

Central government (under both Labour and Conservative administrations) saw the provision of housing as a major part of its policy, and provided subsidies for local authorities to build such housing. System building proved to have serious flaws and flats - which were initially very popular due to their generous space standards - suffered many problems, especially poor protection from damp, weather ingress, but also more serious design defects.

The problem associated with of tower blocks were brought into sharp focus after the partial collapse of Ronan Point, a tower block in Newham, east London on 16 May 1968.

Despite this, by the end of the 1970s around 49% of the population lived in council housing.

Decline

Council housing declined sharply in the Thatcher era, as the Conservative government encouraged aspiration toward home ownership.

Rules restricted councils' investment in housing, preventing them subsidising it from local taxes, but more important, council tenants were given the "right-to-buy" their council houses on very attractive financial terms. Depending on how long they had lived there, tenants could buy their home with a discount of up to 60% of the market price for houses and 70% for flats. Councils were prevented from reinvesting the proceeds of these sales in new housing, and the total available stock, particularly of more desirable homes, declined.

The "right-to-buy" was popular with many former Labour voters and, although the Labour government of Tony Blair has tighened the rules (reducing the maximum discount in areas of most housing need), it shows no sign of abandoning right-to-buy. Labour did relax the policy forbidding reinvestment of sales proceeds.

Many councils have now transferred their housing stock to not-for-profit housing associations, who are now also the providers of most new public sector housing.

The current position is that council housing is a more and more marginalised and stigmatised sector, with the term 'council' increasingly used as a pejorative. Whereas in its early years, council housing was an acceptable option for much of the population, it is now increasingly an option only for those reliant on social security.

In some parts of the country, especially the northern Britain, much council housing is virtually unlettable. Council housing stock has sometimes been used to house those seeking refugee status ('asylum seekers'), who have no choice in their accommodation. In the south and in London in particular, demand still massively outstrips supply.

The Wakefield district council found itself unable to maintain its supply of council housing and sold it all to a housing association, in 2004; this represented the second largest stock transfer in British history. Housing rented from the council accounted for about 28% of the district and around 40% of the actual city of Wakefield.

Other than Wakefield, districts that maintain large amounts of council housing include Barnsley, Corby, Easington, Hull, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and most of the boroughs in east and south London. Many districts of the country have less than 10% of housing rented from the coucil; the national average stands at 14%.

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