Key events in history of UK council housing

Houses on the Knowle council estate in Bristol (Ben Birchall/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The Government is launching a £2 billion social housing programme to run until 2028/29.

Here are the key events in the history of council housing in the UK.

– The first major programme of council house building took place between the First and Second World Wars. Some 17,000 homes were built across Britain in 1920/21, jumping quickly to 110,000 in 1921/22. Housing was a big concern for Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George, who had campaigned on the slogan of building homes “fit for heroes”.

– The scale of building fluctuated over the next two decades, peaking in 1938/39, when 122,000 new council houses were completed, but the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 brought building almost to a halt.

– It was not until 1946 that major construction began again, hitting 168,780 in 1949. Between then and 1978, the total number of new council homes completed each year in the UK never fell below 100,000.

– Construction was particularly high during the 1950s. In 1953 almost a quarter of a million new council homes (245,160) were completed – the highest number for any one year since records began. This was a period when successive Conservative prime ministers Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan made housebuilding a priority of their governments.

– Council house building fell dramatically from 1979 onwards. This was a consequence of changes introduced by Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Councils were redesignated as “enablers” working with housing associations to deliver accommodation, rather than “providers”. Council tenants were given the chance to purchase their own homes under the Right to Buy scheme, which reduced the stock of council housing. Councils were allowed to keep only a portion of the income from these sales.

– The number of newly built council houses fell from 88,530 in 1980 to 17,710 in 1990. The decline accelerated in the next two decades, hitting a low of just 130 in 2004. By comparison, in 2004 20,660 new homes were completed by housing associations, while 182,700 were completed by private firms.

– In recent years housebuilding by local authorities has picked up again. In 2017 a provisional total of 3,280 were built by councils across the UK. But this was still only 1.7% of the total new homes completed in the UK in 2017, with 16.6% built by housing associations and 81.7% privately.