100 Years of Council Housing

It’s not just about creating a safety net to prevent homelessness. By providing homes based on individuals’ needs rather than solely their ability to pay, social housing helps to keep neighbourhoods diverse and integrated. And it provides the stability people need to build lives and strong communities.


The 100th anniversary of the 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act occurred in 2019. This introduced the concept of ‘council housing’ and also led to the creation of the Building Research Station (now BRE), which was established to ensure that new housebuilding was undertaken in the most effective and efficient way using modern building materials and techniques.

Using data, predominantly from the English Housing Survey, the focus of this report is ‘council housing’, defined as that which is ‘owned and managed by local authorities’. However, as many of these homes are now managed by housing associations, these, and indeed all social housing is sometimes still referred to as council housing.

Over the years, council housing has removed millions from the threat of poverty and provided healthy and safe places to grow up in. It has contributed to improved educational attainment, productivity and ultimately the economic performance of the country. It has improved people’s life chances.

Unfortunately, over the last generation council housing has not always kept pace with people’s aspirations. Much has been sold off and not replaced. Because of the pressure on the remainder, it is most commonly allocated to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged leaving others who would like to live in it without the option. Many households are living in poverty and feel stigmatised. Their social mobility may be limited by their very address.

This new report lays out the aspiration that any new social housing is built to high quality standard for both longevity and the health and well-being of its occupants.

What is the legacy of 100 years of council housing, and what does the future look like for those in need of housing support in the UK?

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This work has been funded by the BRE Trust. Any views expressed are not necessarily those of the BRE
Trust, or of BRE, but of the authors.