Social Housing under siege – on centenary of 1919 Addison Act, huge UK council housing programme

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Aug 3 12:59:27 BST 2019

Social Housing under siege – on centenary of 1919 
Addison Act which began huge UK council housing programme


‘Its time for the war to end, and for housing to 
be reinstated as one of three pillars of the 
welfare state, along with health and education.’

By Andy Worthington - 31st July 2019

The unnecessary destruction of Robin Hood Gardens 
Estate in Poplar, in east London, March 2018, to 
make way for a new private development, Blackwall 
Reach (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Andy Worthington’s work as a reader-funded 
investigative journalist, commentator and 
activist. If you can help, please click on the 
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Today, July 31, is the centenary of the first 
Housing and Town Planning Act (widely known as 
the Addison Act), which was introduced by the 
Liberal politician Christopher Addison, as part 
of David Lloyd Georges coalition government 
following the First World War, to provide 
Britains first major council housing programme, 
as John Boughton, the author of 
Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, 
explained in an article published yesterday in 

Boughton explained how, when Addison introduced 
his flagship housing bill to the House of Commons 
in April 1919, he spoke of its utmost importance, 
from the point of view not only of the physical 
wellbeing of our people, but of our social stability and industrial content.

As we celebrate the centenary of council housing, 
Boughton noted, this sentiment is not lost in the 
context of the current housing crisis. From the 
rise in expensive, precarious and often 
poor-quality private renting to the dwindling 
dream of home-ownership, it is fuelling 
discontent. This escalating crisis means that 
increasing numbers of people are now forced to 
deal with the painful consequences of the 
country’s inability to provide such a basic human 
need a stable, affordable home.

Philanthropists had been creating social housing 
since the 1840s, beginning with Model Dwellings 
Companies (privately run companies that sought a 
return for investors while providing affordable 
housing for the working class), and the Peabody 
Donation Fund (now Peabody), founded by the 
London-based US banker George Peabody, whose aim 
was to ameliorate the condition of the poor and 
needy of this great metropolis, and to promote 
their comfort and happiness, and whose first 
project, on Commercial Street in Spitalfields, opened in 1864.

The first council-built housing was 
in Liverpool in 1869, and in 1890, as Boughton 
put it, a Housing Act established the legislative 
powers and machinery of state for the expansion 
of council housing. He added, however, that only 
around 24,000 council homes were built nationally before 1914.

In contrast, as he described it, the 1919 Addison 
Act was a housing revolution – and while 
Addison’s motives were commendable, it must be 
noted that it took the horrors of the First World 
War and the housing plight of those who survived 
it for the British establishment as a whole to 
embrace the need for a major programme of genuinely affordable housing.

As he proceeded to explain, It required not only 
that all local authorities conduct a survey of 
housing needs within just three months but that 
they actively prepare plans to meet them. Beyond 
what could be raised locally by a penny on the 
rates, the cost of building these new homes was 
to be met entirely by the Treasury. The act also 
insisted on high-quality housing, taking its cue 
from the wartime Tudor Walters Report, which had 
recommended cottage homes with front and back 
gardens, bathrooms and pantries at no more than 12 to the acre.

Unfortunately, as Boughton proceeded to explain, 
in a post-war era of materials and labour 
shortages, construction costs were 
unprecedentedly high at around 1,000 per house, 
up to three times the cost of pre-war production 
and his programme fell victim to public spending 
cuts. Just 176,000 homes had been built in 
England and Wales of the 500,000 Lloyd George had 
promised, and Addison resigned from both the 
government and the Liberal party in protest, 
later joining the Labour Party, where he served 
under Ramsay MacDonald, and became Leader of the 
House of Lords during Clement Attlee’s extraordinary post-WWII government.

Following Addison’s resignation, there was a 
revival of council-built housing via other 
housing acts in the 1920s, although, as Boughton 
noted, the houses were typically smaller and 
plainer than those envisaged in 1919. In the 
1930s, when the Labour politician Herbert 
Morrison undertook a visionary expansion of 
council housing in London as the leader of the 
London County Council (LCC), further housing 
bills, which particularly took aim at slum 
clearances and introduced rent rebates also 
addressed what Boughton described as one serious 
deficiency in Addison’s reforms that their 
relatively high rents excluded the slum population most in need of rehousing.

The horror of another war the Second World War 
and, again, the plight of returning soldiers 
paved the way for the British establishment to 
once more accept the need for another major 
programme of genuinely affordable housing, as 
part of the astonishing post-war government led 
by Clement Attlee, which also established the NHS 
and consolidated the welfare state.

 From then until 1979, when Margaret Thatcher 
became Prime Minister and set about destroying 
council housing through her Right to Buy policy, 
cutting funding for maintenance, and introducing 
an absolute prohibition on councils spending 
money from the sale of homes to build new council 
housing council housing was promoted by both 
Labour and Conservative governments, ensuring 
that, for most of the preceding 60 years, after 
the 1919 Addison Act, there was, as Boughton put 
it, a broad cross-party consensus that accepted 
the necessity of state intervention to build the homes the country needed.

As Boughton also explained, One common factor 
underlay both eras of reform under Addison and 
Nye Bevan and it provides the single constant in 
the long history of what is now referred to as 
social housing: that is the inability of the free 
market and the unwillingness of the private 
sector to provide decent, affordable housing to those in greatest need.

40 years on from the start of Margaret Thatchers 
assault on social housing, Britains housing 
crisis has become nothing short of a disaster. 
Thatcher presided over a housing bubble, but also 
a subsequent crash, when numerous homeowners were 
caught in a negative equity trap. The market 
remained cool throughout John Majors premiership, 
but when Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 
1997, ending 18 years of Tory rule, it didnt take 
long for another colossal housing bubble to 
develop one that continues to plague us today, 
with house prices at an all-time high, private 
rents unfettered and out of control, and social 
housing still chronically undermined. Blair 
failed to roll back Thatchers Right to Buy 
project, and also failed to establish the need 
for a major social homebuilding programme, and, 
throughout London, and across the country, Labour 
councils persistently failed to defend council 
housing, instead 
estate demolition programmeswith private 
developers that have drastically reduced the numbers of social homes available.

Since 2010, the Tories have only added fuel to 
this blazing fire of inequality, slashing 
subsidies for social homebuilding and encouraging 
housing associations like Peabody to lose touch 
with their founders aims by becoming, 
essentially, private developers with a sideline 
in social housing. Moreover, when Boris Johnson 
was Londons Mayor, he set affordable rents at 80% 
of market rents (as opposed to social rents at 
around 30% of market rents), and this injustice 
has, typically, not been adequately addressed by 
the Labour Party, or by the major housing 
associations. Since replacing Johnson in 2016, 
Sadiq Khan has set up a sliding scale of 
allegedly affordable rents, all of which are 
considerably more expensive than social rents 
London Affordable Rent (over 60% higher for a 
two-bedroom flat), and London Living Rent (over 130% higher).

For more information, see Andy Worthington’s 
Eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and 
the Mainstream Medias Inadequacy in Reporting 
Stories About Social Homes and Affordable Rents, 
I Discuss the Tidemill Eviction, the Broken 
Regeneration Industry and Sadiq Khans Stealthy 
Elimination of Social Rents, as well as 
on Peabody: Calling on the Former Philanthropic 
Social Housing Provider to Abandon Its Plans to 
Destroy the Old Tidemill Garden and Social 
Housing in Deptfordand 
Radical Proposal to Save the Old Tidemill Garden 
and Reginald House in Deptford: Use Besson Street, an Empty Site in New Cross.

The result of the last 40 years of politicians 
eroding social housing and doing nothing to rein 
in greed in the housing market is akin to another 
war, but this time a cannibalistic war waged by 
British citizens on their less well-off fellow 
citizens, as those with mortgages taken out 
before the bubble have seen insane returns on 
their original investments, and, at the same 
time, absolutely no legislation exists to prevent 
those who take out buy to let mortgages from 
exploiting their tenants as much as they wish, 
while those fortunate enough to live in 
properties at social rent myself included are 
part of an ever-diminishing minority, and, since 
2010, have lived in fear that the Tories will 
pass legislation intended to fully exterminate 
social housing, or, if they live on a council 
estate, that Labour councillors will vote to demolish their homes.

Its time for the war to end, and for housing to 
be reinstated as one of three pillars of the 
welfare state, along with health and education.

Note: If youre interested in doing something to 
mark 100 years since the Addison Act, 
sign Shelters petition calling for the government 
to build more social housing, and watch George 
Clarkes excellent Channel 4 documentary, 
Clarkes Council House Scandal, which was 
broadcast this evening, and in which George 
called on the government to build 100,000 council 
homes a year, and to suspend Right to Buy. An 
article by George, entitled, We dont just need 
more council houses we need the very best in 
space and ecological standards, is 

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'From South America, where payment must be made with subtlety, the 
Bormann organization has made a substantial contribution. It has 
drawn many of the brightest Jewish businessmen into a participatory 
role in the development of many of its corporations, and many of 
these Jews share their prosperity most generously with Israel. If 
their proposals are sound, they are even provided with a specially 
dispensed venture capital fund. I spoke with one Jewish businessmen 
in Hartford, Connecticut. He had arrived there quite unknown several 
years before our conversation, but with Bormann money as his 
leverage. Today he is more than a millionaire, a quiet leader in the 
community with a certain share of his profits earmarked as always for 
his venture capital benefactors. This has taken place in many other 
instances across America and demonstrates how Bormann's people 
operate in the contemporary commercial world, in contrast to the 
fanciful nonsense with which Nazis are described in so much "literature."

So much emphasis is placed on select Jewish participation in Bormann 
companies that when Adolf Eichmann was seized and taken to Tel Aviv 
to stand trial, it produced a shock wave in the Jewish and German 
communities of Buenos Aires. Jewish leaders informed the Israeli 
authorities in no uncertain terms that this must never happen again 
because a repetition would permanently rupture relations with the 
Germans of Latin America, as well as with the Bormann organization, 
and cut off the flow of Jewish money to Israel. It never happened 
again, and the pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
these Jewish leaders. He is residing in an Argentinian safe haven, 
protected by the most efficient German infrastructure in history as 
well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.'

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