The Story of Social Housing in the UK

14 Jun 2019

Social housing is an important part of our society, with over 4 million social housing homes across the UK. The boom of social housing came from some of the greatest times of social unity in our country, when we had come through the struggle and suffering of the Second World War. Following the 75th anniversary of D-day we are telling the story of the co-operation amongst British people from all parts of society that created the vision of ‘decent homes for all’ along with the National Health Service.


The first social housing developments in the UK were built over 130 years ago and by the 1970s, 42% of UK citizens lived in a council property. Nowadays, 17% of the population live in social housing across the country. Here we’ll give you a timeline of the key parts of the history of social housing…



The Boundary Estate in Shoreditch, London was the first of its kind in the world and was built in the Victorian times as a response to poor sanitary conditions in the inner cities. Half of it is still rented as social housing today. The 1890 ‘Housing for the Working Classes Act’ saw London, Liverpool and Glasgow build and regulate a wealth of Common Lodging Houses.



Following the First World War, prime minister David Lloyd George launched the ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ campaign. This saw a shift in British attitudes, where providing decent homes became a national responsibility.  City councils became housing providers following The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919 (The Addison Act) and were offered subsidies to build more housing stock.


The largest estate built at this time was the Becontree estate in Dagenham. Work started 1921 and by 1932 over 25,000 houses had been built with luxuries, such as gas and electricity, inside toilets and gardens. Over 100,000 people moved into the area.



During this decade councils dedicated their time towards slum clearance. The Housing Act 1930 required that each council submit a plan of how they would get rid of poor quality housing from their districts.



During the Second World War, home building ground to a halt as the nation put everything into the war effort. Following the end of the war, it was estimated that 750,000 homes were needed to replace those destroyed by the Blitz. Over one million homes were built, of which 80% were council stock.



This era saw a continuing boom in building British homes, regardless of which party was in power. Clearing slums in favour of high-rise blocks seemed at the time, a futuristic answer to replacing unsuitable housing. In Bristol in 1955, at the peak of construction 43 families were being moved into brand new homes per week.



Over 500,000 new flats were added to London’s council housing stock during this decade.



This was the beginning of Right to Buy becoming popular with those living in council houses. In England in 1970, 7,000 council houses we sold to tenants and by 1972 this number was up to 46,000!



From the beginnings of social housing, local authorities were allowed to sell the homes they managed, but it wasn’t until Right to Buy got into full swing that they were forced to do so. Over two million people bought their council-owned properties at a huge discount during this decade. In London, the number of social houses shrank from 840,000 to 500,000.



In 2002 the government set out a ‘Decent Homes Standard’ that required all landlords to improve their housing stock by 2010. By 2007, 86% of council properties had met these standards.

Following the financial crisis in 2008, the building of new homes shrank to its lowest since post-war Britain. Then in September 2018, Teresa May announced £2 billion of extra funding for new social housing.


Taking a look back at how social housing began and grew through the ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ campaign, we can feel proud of it, in the same way as with the NHS and free education that our country offers. The history of social housing shows that for many years it has been a central part of our culture and we look forward to many more years of serving the sector and the people within it.