Where Do Housing Schemes Come From? A Brief History (2)

Where Do Housing Schemes Come From? A Brief History (2)

1945 & Onwards: ‘Social Housing’

Despite all the policy changes and some great progress in the inter war years, slum housing still remained a problem throughout the UK at the outbreak of WWII. There is a clip from the BBC archives here on some of the Scottish housing built in the 20’s and 30’s. The end of WWII brought with it a chronic housing problem due to wide scale bombing and damage of many cities (over 25% of British homes were destroyed). The government’s so-called ‘temporary’ solution at the time was to build factory made prefabricated houses to try to cope with the ever increasing demand. However, many of these (often substandard) houses remained in use right up until the 1980’s. Here is a clip of post war housing in Scotland.

The New Town’s Act was passed in 1946 and was meant to deal with the problem of slum housing and city centre overcrowding.

14 new towns were planned in the 1940s and another 14 built in the 1960s. New towns contained a variety of house types. Shops, schools and leisure facilities were within easy reach. New towns were built in Scotland at Cumbernauld, Glenrothes, Livingston, East Kilbride and Irvine.

The 50’s and 60’s saw wholesale changes to the British housing landscape as council after council demolished their stock of old, terraced houses and replaced them with ‘high rise’ flats ( tenements/stairs/apartments). In fact, they became a central feature in most of the UK’s ‘council estates’ and ‘schemes.’ Once again, community living took a back seat to social policy and many thousands of people were left lonely and isolated in these buildings, even if perversely, they lived in far better conditions. Then, in the late 70’s and 80’s, the UK government introduced a ‘right to buy’ initiative for many of the schemes as well as seeking to redevelop these places through private housing associations and private building contractors.

However, for most of the twentieth century the responsibility for the majority of social-housing projects lay with central government and local authorities. From the inter-war period until the 1980s, social housing effectively meant local-authority built, owned and managed housing. Of course, originally these places used to be bastions of respectability for the working class man and his family and were marked by perfectly trimmed lawns and net curtains hanging from the windows. Problems soon became apparent as ‘urban blight’ set in and many of these places were left to decay and rot over a period of decades. Abandoned buildings became a feature, particularly on the estate I grew up in. Schemes began to be marked by rising crime, violence, the explosion of the drug scene, gang culture and a lack of economic stimulation. This led to many empty properties becoming ‘squat’s and places in which to buy/sell/take drugs.

Opinions on housing schemes differ depending on your life history and experience of them. I was dragged up through the gutter, so my view is somewhat coloured compared to a person who grew up in a ‘respectable’ (had a job and both parents) household on the same scheme. Nowadays, there are still vestiges of working class people, sometimes holding down 2 or more jobs as they struggle to pay the bills often dealing with an ever-increasing credit problem. Hand in hand with modern redevelopment we have an influx of middle class social climbers. In Niddrie, young professionals getting on the property ladder, are buying over priced flats and houses from property developers. They’re bringing with them their worldview, often not understanding fully the nuances of entering a tight-knit scheme community where families have lived for generations (our scheme is over 100 years old). Then we have immigrants flooding in from around the world, met with suspicion and derided for ‘taking our jobs’ (usually by people who haven’t got one, want one, or would even consider doing the jobs that many of these people do). We also have the ‘benefits class’ who have been on social security handouts for generations. Even when they do work, they still claim benefits because it is seen as giving it to the establishment.  For them the feeling of entitlement is all pervasive. Work is anathema and they are incredulous at the suggestion that they might have to earn the benefits they receive. All of this fed by a pill culture that is commonplace, coupled with a criminal underbelly that deals in street drugs, prescribed medication and stolen goods as a matter of course. Far too many people are ruled by fear, control and the ideal of not being a ‘grass’. Back in the golden days people were proud that they could leave their back doors open. Nowadays, the only people who can do this, perversely, are criminals or those who come from a ‘known’ family. Schemes, then, are a real mixture of people. To some they are places of horror, to some places of terror, to some places of hopelessness but to many millions more they are ‘home’.



    Nowadays, the only people who can do this, perversely, are criminals or those who come from a ‘known’ family.

    good observation … when the bikes are left unlocked outside the house all night … you know no ones messing with the family …

    What you describe has been called the ‘residualisation of council housing’, with only the ‘neediest being housed’…. as you alluded to, 30 – 40 years ago there was a broader range of people on estates (schemes ?)

    with the Conservative (I don’t think this is a particularly partisan point) distaste for local authority housing in the 1980s, leading to the selling off of the stock (right to buy), the increase in housing associations, and no new council housing being built (or very little) and the allocation of that there is being given out on the basis of ‘need’ (points), it has led to generally the most ‘needy’ individuals and families getting council housing, and therefore all being put in the same place and some of the more stable people moving out (with their children not getting housed there if they had work – not enough points).

    Hence in places like London and Birmingham, the ‘problem’ families, and those with drug and mental health issues have all been placed together, and this (along with the neglect of the stock by the councils) led to the urban blight you describe.

    Thanks for your writing on this ….



      Thanks Colin
      Yes, these are some of the ‘side effect’ (if you like) or our housing policies over the last century. Modern developments are making places like Niddrie ‘look good’ but are not dealing with the real spiritual malaise.

      The church in the UK has a responsibility to reconsider its position in these areas (often dying and non existent) and for that reason a few of us are currently trying to establish a mission that will send church planters into areas without gospel churches. we also want to recognise the hard work done by existing churches who may be struggling for finances and support and we are seeking for ways to help them. It’s early days.


    The church in the UK has a responsibility to reconsider its position in these areas

    I think in recent years this has been muddied by gentrification. Conservative Evangelicals are now planting in inner city areas which are gentrifying. This means you can plant in an area which would not have had a gospel church for a generation or longer and grow with gentrifiers and transfer growth. Which is not necessarily the intention of the planter, but gives the appearance of the kingdom growing in that area …

    I was visiting London on the weekend and went to a really good church in one of these areas – good teaching, friendly, a brilliant black – white mix (which is rare in our circles). They’ve not been going long – but seem to be 50 – 100. But whilst estates are not far away, it seemed to be largely professionals.

    Now they are doing a great job. But this is not what we are talking about which is the expansion of the kingdom, among working class people (for want of a better phrase)

    Now it will be fascinating to visit that church in 5 years – I pray they will continue to grow – but how ??? and how do we then seek to grow mixed economically churches ? when the temptation is to just seek growth among our own ?


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