Nye Bevan on Solving the Housing Problem

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece commenting on the increasing shortage of affordable housing due to Margaret Thatcher’s policy of selling off council houses. These have been bought up by private landlords and housing associations, who are charging rents that are unaffordable to many. As a result, the number of evictions has doubled in the past few years. See Mike’s article at

This is how the Thatcherite dream of Britain as a nation of home-owners ends

The Labour Party after the War launched a campaign of house building under Nye Bevan, in order to provide ‘homes fit for heroes’. It was not as successful as it could have been, largely because the high quality of the homes built meant that the numbers actually put up were smaller than were later built under MacMillan, when the quality requirements were relaxed. Nevertheless, it was quite an achievement.

Bevan’s vision for state provision of housing is laid out in the book From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State, by Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2002). In it, he makes clear that he wishes to provide homes for the poor. At the same time, he does not want to create segregated areas where the poor are separated from the rich, or occupied mainly by retired people. The problem of social exclusion and ‘social cleansing’ of the poor from rich areas has also become acute under the Tories, especially in London where vast areas are now unaffordable to all but the extremely rich, with the consequence that the working and lower middle classes are being pushed out of their traditional neighbourhoods as these too are bought up by the middle classes.

I want to explain … the broad outlines of the Government’s housing policy. Before the war the housing problems of the middle classes were, roughly speaking, solved. The higher income groups had their houses: the lower income groups had not …. We propose to start to solve, first, the housing difficulties of the lower income groups. In other words were propose to lay the main emphasis of our programme upon building houses to let. That means that we shall ask local authorities to be the main instruments for the housing programme … It is … a principle of the first importance that the local authorities must be looked to as the organisation and source for the building of the main bulk of the housing programme …

Each year before the war about 260,000 houses were built for private enterprise alone, for sale, while the local authorities were confined largely to slum clearance schemes. They built about 50,000 houses a year under those schemes … I would like to ask the House to consider the grave civic damage caused by allowing local authorities to build house for only the lower income groups living in their colonies. This segregation of the different income groups is a wholly evil thing, from a civilised point of view … It is a monstrous affliction upon the essential psychological and biological one-ness of the community …

One of the consequences of this segregation was to create a insistence of uniformity … I am going to encourage the housing authorities in their lay-outs to make provision for building some houses also from the higher income groups at higher rents…

I hope that all age groups will be found hospitality in their schemes, and that they will not be segregated. I hope that old people will not be asked to live in colonies of their own – after all they do not want to look out of their windows on an endless processions [sic] of their friends; they also want to look at processions of perambulators….

The main emphasis on the housing programme, will be on the local authorities. I am fully aware there are certain forms of building organisations that may not be available for the public building programme. The local authorities are, therefore, allowed to license private buildings for sale up to a limit of £1,200 in the provinces, and £1,300 in London… These licenses are for the purpose of supplementing the main housing programme, and not for diverting building labour and materials that would otherwise flow into the public housing programmes…

I should like … to warn hon. Members against one aspect of this matter. There is a great deal of money available in this country for investing in house-building… I do not propose… to let this vast mass of accumulated money on a scarcity market, and to encourage people to acquire mortgages that will be gravestones around their necks…

It is not that we ourselves are against people owning their own houses … There is no desire on our part to prevent people owning their own houses…

The Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister … said that this business of housing was going to be treated as a military operation. I entirely agree with him. If you wanted land for an airfield during the war, you did not have protracted negotiations with the landlord. We are going to have no protracted negotiations with the landlord for getting houses… We are going to ask the House to approve a Bill by which land for all public purposes, including housing-will be acquired by all those agencies which have powers of compulsory purchase… If it is agreed, as it is by the House, that land is needed for public purposes, there is no logic in those purposes being frustrated or held up because protracted negotiations have to go on with the owners of the land…

We, on this side of the House, have committed ourselves to no figures… The fact is that if at this moment we attempted to say that, by a certain date, we will be building a certain number of houses that statement would rest upon no firm basis of veracity…

When the materials and labour have been provided to the local authorities, we will provide the local authorities with housing targets…

In conclusion I would say this: I believe that this housing shortage can be solved. (Pp. 159-60)

Sadly, it wasn’t. Squalor and destitution remained. But it was a fair attempt, and far more successful than Thatcher’s policy, which has finally ended with landlordism and an acute housing shortage.

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4 Responses to “Nye Bevan on Solving the Housing Problem”

  1. Nye Bevan on Solving the Housing Problem | Beastrabban’s Weblog | Vox Political Says:

    […] Source: Nye Bevan on Solving the Housing Problem | Beastrabban’s Weblog […]

  2. What Britain can learn from how public housing is run in Europe - StuntFM 97.3 Says:

    […] on the open market? Or is this approach and the ghettoisation that it entails, as Nye Bevan put it, “a wholly evil thing … a monstrous affliction upon the essential psychological and biological […]

  3. What Britain can learn from how public housing is run in Europe – Digital Finance Analytics (DFA) Blog Says:

    […] on the open market? Or is this approach and the ghettoisation that it entails, as Nye Bevan put it, “a wholly evil thing … a monstrous affliction upon the essential psychological and biological […]

  4. What Britain can learn from how public housing is run in Europe | My Blog Says:

    […] on the open market? Or is this approach and the ghettoisation that it entails, as Nye Bevan put it, “a wholly evil thing … a monstrous affliction upon the essential psychological and […]

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