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Anti-social Housing

Wonky sign to Aylesbury estate sport centre

BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Anti-social housing is broadcast on Thursday 26th February at 20.30 GMT and repeated on Sunday 1st March at 21.30 GMT.

The government is promising to address the housing crisis, with millions on the waiting list for social housing and repossessions expected to soar. But have we learnt the lessons of the past?

Richard Reeves, director of the independent think tank Demos, asks whether social housing has failed everyone: failed those who can't get housing, failed those in housing and failed the taxpayers who fund it.

The original vision was idyllic. Post-war Labour housing minister Nye Bevan argued for a social mix on council estates and hoped to replicate "the lovely feature of the English and Welsh village, where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and farm labourer all lived on the same street" what he called "the living tapestry of a mixed community."

Tamsin Thompson
Tamsin Thompson gives a guided tour of Aylesbury estate in London

Instead, say critics homes, were built on the cheap and insufficient money was set aside for repair. And the council estates themselves began to attract a bad reputation.

"When I was about sixteen I went for the bus to go home after my Saturday job," Lynsey Hanley, author of Estates: An Intimate History, tells the programme. "And this woman comes up to me and says 'Oh, you're not waiting for the bus to the Wood are yer?' And I said 'Well, yeah, that's where I live'. And she said 'Den of iniquity that place'."

Access became limited to those most in need, skewing the social mix. "From the point of view of society as a whole," says Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics, "the idea of walling away one group of people from the rest of the society, so that people become invisible to the mainstream, is not a healthy part of the political process."

Council estate
Do today's council estates live up to the post war ideal of social mixture?

Housing associations have attempted to meet the demand, building low-cost housing by using surplus funds generated by private sales to supplement government grants. But their position has become more perilous with the economic downturn, leading to calls for greater government intervention and even a return to the intensive council house building programmes of the past.

And there is controversy over one of the pillars of British social housing - security of tenure, which means tenants can stay in their properties even if their income goes up dramatically.

Alan Walter of Defend Council Housing, says it's essential if tenants are to live decent lives.

"What people want is a home, not just somewhere to lay down their head for a few nights. And there is something that I find really offensive when you have politicians talking about council housing as if it is just a short term fallback for those in desperate need."

But Richard asks if the policy is really creating a springboard for people to seek well-paid jobs - and whether our social housing policy needs radical reform if tenants are to be genuinely integrated into society.


Emran Shaheen Housing Association tenant

Joan Smart Social Housing tenant

Iain Duncan Smith MP

Lynsey Hanley author of 'Estates: An Intimate History'.

John Hills Professor of Social Policy and Director of the ESRC Research Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion

David Orr Chief Executive National Housing Federation

Tamsie Thomson Head of Building Futures, Royal Institute of British Architects

Alan Walter Chair of Defend Council Housing

Producer: Mark Savage

Editor: Hugh Levinson

Coming up

In hard times, our instinct is to stop spending and rediscover the virtues of thrift. But after decades of easy credit and consumerism, asks Chris Bowlby, how far has thrift lost its moral attraction? And would its revival further ruin the economy?

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Richard Reeves, director of the independent think tank Demos, asks whether social housing has failed everyone: failed those who can't get housing, failed those in housing and failed the taxpayers who fund it.




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