The contrast is striking – between a system created to provide the best possible housing for everybody (Bevan’s) and one intended to provide the best possible profit to private landlords from housing of the lowest standard people will still accept (today’s).
Admittedly, neither plan has worked, although at least Bevan’s had the virtue of trying to put a roof over everybody’s head. Today’s housing shortage has been exacerbated by greed.
It’s time to consider a new solution and This Writer believes the Labour Party may have a few ideas – again.
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:
“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 …
“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.
Join the Vox Political Facebook page.
If you have appreciated this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!
Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
(but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:
Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
fighting for the facts.
Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:
The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here: