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

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor