Today marks 100 years since the Housing Act, commonly known as the Addison Act (after the Minister Of Housing, Christopher Addison) came into force. It was, in part, a response to the shocking lack of fitness amongst many recruits during World War One, attributed to poor living conditions.
Today, we find ourselves in a new crisis where by housing creates poverty, misery and both physical and mental health problems.
Things did not have to be like this, none of these problems are inevitable. In fact, if the opportunities afforded by the Addison Act had been realised I am sure we would be living in a more equal, happy and healthy society now.
The Addison Act made housing a national responsibility, and local authorities were given the task of developing new housing and rented accommodation where it was needed by working people. The idea of that working people should be able to live in decent accommodation is an idea, I think we should revitalise.
Further Acts during the 1920s extended the duty of local councils to make housing available as a social service. The Housing Act of 1924 gave substantial grants to local authorities in response to the acute housing shortages of these years.
A fresh Housing Act of 1930 obliged local councils to clear all remaining slum housing, and provided further subsidies to re-house inhabitants. This single Act led to the clearance of more slums than at any time previously, and the building of 700,000 new homes.
In the Attlee Government, Aneurin Bevan was the Minister for Health and Housing, recognition, surely, of how closely aligned the two are. He promoted a vision of new estates where “the working man, the doctor and the clergyman will live in close proximity to each other”.
Surely the divided society we now have is marked our more by housing than any other thing.
Social housing, was a great state asset, giving the state the ability to ensure a general standard of living for the population, a safety net which no one would fall below and a means of ensuring that people had shared interests and mixed together.
Of course, it was not perfect, but it help promise and opportunity for a better world – good housing makes good health more likely (poor housing is, for example, linked to increased risk of meningitis, asthma, and slow growth, which is linked to coronary heart disease) and makes participation in eduction and leisure activities more likely.
The beginning of the decline in social housing began in 1980, with a new Housing Act forming the flagship policy of Margaret Thatcher’s first term in office. Council tenants were given the right to buy the property they lived in, at a significantly discounted price than that of the market.
One million properties were sold in the first 7 years alone. Under the Act , councils were prevented from reinvesting the proceeds of these sales in new housing, and so the total available stock, particularly of more desirable homes, declined.
Homes lost under the scheme have not been replaced in any adequate number.
The Resolution Foundation reports that English local authorities and housing associations have built only one home for every two sold under the scheme.
40 percent of council houses once sold under right-to-buy terms to their tenants are now being privately rented out. have spent £22 million yearly simply renting back the buildings they had once owned as temporary housing. has facilitated an enormous transfer of wealth from the public to private sector.
This is, in effect an enormous transfer of wealth from the public to private sector. It also sees a massive strain added to the public purse as housing benefit is paid to private landlords for the properties built by tax payers money.
The rental market, fuelled by a lack of social rents now operates like the wild west, with renters, or consumers as you might call them, forced to pay rents which have grown far in excess with the rise in wages.
The National Housing Federation says that in England, just under a fifth of households are in relative poverty after housing costs. Over half of those in poverty in the private rented sector were not in poverty before paying their rent.
Standards in the private sector are often poor, despite the high rent: 2018 study found that more than 1.3 million homes rented from private landlords failed to meet the national Decent Homes Standard. Conditions were found to get worse the longer tenants remained in their property, suggesting poor property management rather than old housing stock was the cause of despair.
A little discussed problem which is caused by the decline of the supply of social housing is the social division it has caused.
As demand for social housing grows, scrutiny of those who are awarded it grows. There is a feeling that those in social housing, with rents below market rate and stable tencies have hit some kind of jackpot. I regularly hear reports from those in social housing that they are told ‘if you don’t like it go private, if they complain about any aspect of their property. At the same time stigma remains attached to those living in social housing, as if only their address defines them.
With the risk of eviction always hanging over those in the private rented sector as well as often poor conditions it is no wonder mental health suffers.
According to the charity Shelter, one fifth of people report a housing issue has negatively impacted on their mental health in the last five years. Studies have also isolated a clear ‘housing effect’ in relation to important aspects of children’s well-being and future life chances.Poor housing conditions increase the risk of severe ill-health or disability by up to 25 per cent during childhood and early adulthood.
Were this a better country, one that had pursued policies which had led to the overwhelming majority of people living in secure, fit accommodation which remained a state asset we might well be celebrating today, as a national holiday, a day of celebration of the Housing Act of 1919 and the prosperity and security it bought to generations of citizens.
Sadly it was not to be.