Michael Collins: All huddled together under one roof

It was Labour who demolished a fair letting system for council houses

Share
Related Topics

In a recent BBC interview, I asked the Housing minister, Grant Shapps, if our housing situation today was as critical as it was around 1900. He said "crisis" was the only word to describe it both then and now. The solution then was council houses. Legislation after the First World War resulted in 170,000 new homes. Yesterday the Prime Minister attempted to deal with our own crisis; the emphasis was on home ownership, but council housing has its part. There were initiatives to correct misuse of the system and issues around tenure, in a bid to make council housing a springboard for social mobility – which is what it once was (notably in the post-war New Towns).

But rather than a means test to decide if people with high incomes should stay in council housing, the Government should clarify who the houses are for. In the past it was clear who was entitled. Long before the Ministry for Housing, state housing fell under the remit of Health. The working classes were the priority – not necessarily the poorest, but those in insanitary homes condemned as slums.

Nye Bevan removed the term "working classes" from the 1949 Housing Act in a bid to make council housing for all. But it was entirely cosmetic: the middle classes opted for home ownership and the working class took priority because their needs were greater. Allocation was by a points system, weighted for those with local connections. A "sons and daughters" scheme ensured extended families remained on the same estates, in the expectation that further generations would remain locally.

Although a Tory government brought council housing as we knew it to an end in 1979 with the great sell-off, it was Labour who demolished a fair letting system. In 1977, the homeless were made a priority and a system of "need" was introduced that was open to abuse. Unsurprisingly, a lot of "homeless" people appeared, to the annoyance of locals who had waited patiently for years on the housing lists.

Today rented housing in the public sector is dominated by sub-lets, in many cases occupied by those with other homes. The criteria for letting needs to be rethought. Once the working class and homeless topped the list; in the current climate housing need has widened to all classes – those unable to get on the property ladder, those that can't afford the high rents of the private sector, those whose homes have been repossessed. These all add to those heavily laden waiting lists. In order to create a system that allocates homes to those most entitled, this idea of "need" must be redefined.

The Coalition in part addresses this, by preventing those with suitable homes already from seeking social housing and granting local authorities more freedom in allocation. But prioritising working households, as proposed, may simply reverse the situation Labour created in 1977 and ghettoise the jobless in poor housing, private and public.

Michael Collins made the BBC film "The Great Estate: The Rise and Fall of the Council House"

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones