Homes for Heroes – Housing from 1919 – 1946 Essay

‘Homes for Heroes’ Housing from 1919 – 1946 Module Code: SS2031N “What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in”. David Lloyd George , Wolverhampton 1918 Homes for Heroes Housing from 1919 – 1946 The subject of this essay is Homes for Heroes, Housing from 1919 – 1946. The essay will start with the myth of Lloyd George’s homes for heroes statement.

Following this we will move on and look at the history behind what made Lloyd George make his comment, which would of course be the condition of the housing stock in England and Wales at the time, touch upon the subject of conscription and the Great War before moving on to numerous Housing Acts of the era along with what the availability or lack of availability of new housing meant both to working classes and the slum dwellers whilst covering how the economy impacted the ability to build new homes..

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The essay will then move on to post WWII building and the urgency of housing after the war, with a glance at the Beveridge Report which included housing, before concluding. “What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in”. David Lloyd George (Taken from a speech made by Lloyd George in Wolverhampton on the 24th November 1918) Prior to the First World War the housing stock was almost exclusively private, but this was set to change. During the First World War, in addition to the recruits already in the army, over 4. 7 million were recruited from England and Wales (Baker: 2011). Compulsory National Service (CNS)(Military Service Act 1916) was introduced when the steady voluntary stream of men seemed to dry up, CNS allowed for all single men aged 18 to 41 to be enlisted, however with so many men taking army medicals, it also revealed the state of the nation’s health (Baker: 2010), in Britain many had been raised in poor living conditions and was for many seen as the norm (Nassau: 2010),  During the 1918 election, David Lloyd George said “What is our task?

To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in. ”  Protests both in the UK and amongst deployed troops raised the fear of insurrection in some people’s minds. Lloyd George when discussing housing, noted to the cabinet at the time “The people had been promised reform time and time again, yet still nothing had been done… we must give them that conviction even if it costs a hundred million pounds, what is that compared to the stability of the state? discussed on The Great Estate: The Rise & Fall of the Council House (22 May 2012) (Crisp; 1998) This fear of insurrection and the apparent need to appease the masses was this translated into a commitment to housing through The Housing and Town Planning Act 1919 (Addison Act) which started local authority involvement in the management and supply of affordable municipal housing in England and Wales, discussed on The Great Estate: The Rise & Fall of the Council House (22 May 2012) (Smith & Whysall: 1990).

Even though a horrifying number of men had been killed in the war, there were still millions who needed to be demobilised; many of these had been left disabled from the war. The need for suitable homes and jobs was a task initially assigned to the Ministry of Reconstruction but in June 1919, just as the Ministry should have been at its peak of activity it was disbanded along with many other wartime committees. (BBC: 2012). With The Housing and Town Planning Act 1919 Lloyd George acknowledged the need for housing in Britain.

Taking inspiration from one of the first ever housing schemes in the country Letchworth (Garden City) designed and built by Raymond Unwin and unveiled and financed by Ebenezer Howard in 1903. (Miller; 2002)(Howard; 2009) (King: 2011) New homes were to be built around the country with estates of 2, 3, 4 and 5 bedroomed homes meeting the Tudor Walters standard, this standard gave generously sized rooms and gardens large enough to encourage people to grow their own vegetables (University of

West England: 2008). However whilst an estimated 800,000 homes were needed across Britain the reality was that by the end of 1922 less than 214,000 had been built. This was put down to the cost, building decent homes was seen as too expensive (BBC: 2012) and in 1921 Addison himself was moved away from housing by Lloyd George who apologised to the House of Commons for not moving him a year earlier, Addison’s apparent crime being that of spending too much money on housing (Wicks: 2009).

After the General Election in 1922 with recession and mass unemployment at home, economic crisis in Germany and elsewhere the Housing Act 1923 (Chamberlin Housing Act) re-directed the remaining monies previously put aside for building homes under the Housing Act 1919 to other priorities, although some money was left to encourage private builders to build new homes, this seemed at the time to bring to an end the building of council homes. (National Archives: 2012) (Wicks: 2009)

However in 1923, the first ever UK Labour government briefly came to power and passed The Wheatley Act (Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1924) which gave generous grants to councils to build homes (Parliament UK: 2012) The level of rents was a problem, for four bedroomed tenements in Hoxton area  of London the ministry of health suggested rents of 12s 9d a week but St Marylebone council claimed that it was too high and suggested a rent of 10s a week, which they stated was around 20% of the national wage in 1924. Whitehead; 2011) Becontree in Essex, known as the largest housing estate in the world, had over 2,700 homes built between 1921 and 1932, this was one of the first council housing estates where tenants were given handbooks outlining expected behaviour and rules about cleaning windows, keep the garden neat etc. rule breakers were removed from the estate and their homes, the houses were mainly let to working class families who had good incomes and could afford the rent discussed on The Great Estate: The Rise & Fall of he Council House (2012)(Ravetz: 2001) However as time passed and building levels increased councils began to find it hard to find tenants who wanted to move out of the city into the outer cottage estates, London County Council experienced these problems, and in 1928 its Housing Committee argued that unless special steps were taken to provide accommodation for rehousing, it would be unable to complete the slum clearance schemes then in hand within a reasonable time. (LCC Mins; 1928, ii, p. 34–45. ) The Housing Act 1930 (Greenwood Act) directed councils to start a 5 year programme of slum clearance, this in turn increased pressure on land required to build more houses whilst bringing into council housing the very poorest in society. This caused rents to fall and the square footage of houses to fall by around 40% from those first built in 1919 and for councils for the first time to build tenement blocks. (University of West England 2008) (Hobhouse; 1994) (National Archives; 2012)

In London the slums of Hoxton, Camberwell, Poplar and elsewhere were demolished and rebuilt mostly as 4 and 5 storey tenements. To overcome the stigma of the association with tenements with slums they were marketed as exotic seeming continental flats. The flats of this era gave a sense of community, a sense of belonging to the individuals who lived there, discussed on The Great Estate: The Rise & Fall of the Council House (22 May 2012).

In Liverpool the home building was extensive, in the city itself, mostly financed by the council consisted of flats, whilst the outskirts of the city were ringed by vast belts of semis, which were largely financed privately through what were at the time innovative, risk-taking financial products aimed at the lower-middle classes: cheap, low-deposit mortgages (Jerram; 2011).

Inspiration for council built flats in Liverpool came from Britz (Horseshoe) Estate in Berlin designed by Bruno Taut, but with larger space for each flat, open as opposed to enclosed walkways and through ventilation, the idea of opening windows in both front and rear of the home and allowing air to circulate through the home, a concept thought to be good for health. (Bullock: 2002) and discussed on The Great Estate: The Rise & Fall of the Council House (22 May 2012) (National Trust; 2012) (Hudson; 2008)

The Housing Act (Financial Provisions) 1933 abolished the subsidy for council housing except for slum clearance, the government could no longer afford to meet the costs of the house building program, between 1927 and 1932 outstanding public borrowing had increased from ? 98 bn to ? 214 bn, The Labour Party had been defeated at the polls and much of the political desire associated with homes for heroes had passed. (Crisp; 1998)

However the need for new homes was clear, in debating The Bill prior to enactment Miss E Rathbone noted “… houses under the Wheatley Act … are mainly let to higher paid wage-earners … among the poorer wage-earners overcrowding is actually greater in London and other cities than it was 10 years ago. As to slum clearances, we have … scarcely scratched the problem”. Sir H Young also noted in an answer to a question the gap between the number of homes cleared and number of homes built saying in response to a question “there have been clearances of 15,400 houses and there have been completed 5,600 replacement houses”. Hansard; 1932) To bridge the gap between the need for new housing and the ability to pay for it, the Act attempted to get local authorities to turn to building societies for funding, and also to encourage private builders by allowing them also to secure funding from building societies, however this proved an unpopular option amongst councils and new home building fell dramatically (Crisp; 1998).

Rents levels continued to be a concern and thought to be too high, for most a rent of 7s 9d per week was thought to be all that many could afford, but councils expected rents of anything from 12s up to 20s per week meaning most rents were too high for the many families to afford leading to events like the 1934 Leeds rent strike (Bradley; 1999)  (Annets et al: 2009) and by 1938 over 360,000 council homes were unoccupied due to them being too expensive for the average family, however despite this by 1939 14% of families in

England and Wales rented accommodation from councils having risen from almost nothing in 1919. (Freeman; 1985) (Constantine: 1983) With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, house building effectively stopped and councils shelved plans for further developments. (Malpass & Walmsley; 2005) The housing situation was made worse during the course of the war, Britain lost more than 2 million homes in bombing raids by the Germans and many more were badly damaged. In London alone 1. million Londoners lost their homes between September 1940 and May 1941 (BBC; 2012) in response to this the government initiated plans to erect temporary accommodation by the way of prefabs and by the end of the war over 156,000 prefabs were constructed across the country (Vale: 1995) In 1942, William Beveridge, identified housing as one of his ‘five giants’, Beveridge saw housing as one of the major factors in poverty in Britain and went on to say in 1944 that “The greatest opportunity open in this country for raising the general standard of living lies in housing” (Trueman; 2012)(Dorling: 2010).

The report published in December 1942 was a major bestseller, selling 635,000 copies, the Archbishop of Canterbury referred to the report as “the first time anyone had set out to embody the whole spirit of the Christian ethic in an Act of Parliament” (Barnett; 1986 p 29) (Barnett; 1987). A good number of copies of the report found their way to fighting soldiers all over the world and for many of those soldiers the ideals and recommendations of the report became what they were fighting for. (Bryne: 2012) (Simkin: 2012)

At the end of the war, the newly elected Labour government lead by Clement Attlee faced a major problem with the lack of housing with so many homes destroyed or damaged and so little effort spent to rebuild or repair them at the time as the government had concentrated its efforts, resources and labour pool on the war effort. It seemed to the government that prefabs were the short term solution to the housing shortage and within a few short months over 125,000 were ordered and erected across the country as a temporary measure.

There was also seen the need for good quality council homes, and restrictions on the availability of licences for the building and sale of private homes were implemented. Although the prefabs were meant as short term accommodation whilst new homes and flats were built, twenty years later most prefabs were still in use as permanent homes (Trueman: 2012). The New Towns Act 1946 led councils up and down the country to create “new towns” such as Stevenage, Hemel Hempstead, Crawley and Bracknell.

The New Towns Act was as an important part in the rebuilding of Britain, as the Act tried to address the issue of overcrowding within large cities by dispersing the population. The building of New Towns incorporated planned facilities such as Schools and Hospitals which also helped address some of the other ‘giants’ on Beveridge’s list (Parliament UK: 2012)(Trueman: 2012)(House of Commons, Beveridge: 1951).

In conclusion, today somewhat 65 years after WWII and the Housing Act of 1946 we are still experiencing housing shortages across the country, this could be partially due to the Conservative governments of the past screwing the country over and doing their best to turn Britain into a “Little America”, with restricted inadequate housing for the poorest in society.

The need for affordable social housing in Britain has always been the meat on the bone for many aspiring politician, or at least was until the early 1980’s, when Thatcher lit the paper for the destruction of social housing, with the introduction of right to buy, councils being restricted on building, major repairs and renovations and the more or less forced sale or transfer of housing stock to private landlords and housing associations leaving councils almost powerless to tackle key social problems in their area.

Today with housing being shifted away from government control and into private business, and the little social housing that is left being let on enforced short term leases to only the most needy will mean that government and social housing is seen as extremely poor, no communities will be created, and those living in the houses will have no sense of home and no reason to look after the property or to care about the impact they have on their neighbours, the current government policy is set to create undesirable people living in undesirable ghettos.

With house prices rising and the ever increasing private rent levels the ConDem government looks set to send us backwards instead of forwards During the term of the Labour party in 1999 – 2009 new homes were expected to be built by councils and housing associations, the introduction of the decent homes standard meant that homes and houses should be bought up to liveable standards, with new kitchens, bathrooms and updated heating systems. However the ConDem party have since scrapped the housing plans set out by the Labour party with the use of the ever usual slogan of the Conservative party of “the nation cannot afford this, we must cut back”.

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