Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979 marked a turning point for housing in Barking—and the rest of Britain as well.
The Tories were determined to shift away from providing public housing to relying on the private market.
In the 1970s, the council housed two in three households in Barking & Dagenham.
The huge Becontree estate in the heart of the borough was a symbol of that era.
It was built after the First World War and was completed by the early 1930s.
With 27,000 homes and 120,000 people living there it was the largest public sector housing development in the world at the time.
Thousands of overcrowded families moved out of London’s east end to live there.
Many found jobs at the new Ford car plant at Dagenham. By the 1950s, over 40,000 people worked there.
For much of the twentieth century the local economy was based on heavy industry—in contrast to what was typical of London as a whole—taking advantage of the local docks.
Much of that industry has been destroyed and new employment is largely in the service sector.
Ford now employs just 2,000 people at its diesel engine plant.
The decline of Ford has been matched by the decline of council housing.
Under Thatcher’s “Right to Buy” scheme, council tenants were able to buy their council homes. Big discounts, up to 60 percent in some cases, were offered on the sale price.
Across the country almost 450,000 council houses for rent were sold between 1980 and 2005.
People moved from places like Newham or Hackney to buy somewhere for the first time, or to get somewhere bigger as their families grew, or because rents were cheaper.
The west of the borough in particular has become much more ethnically diverse in recent years. But as Labour councillor Milton McKenzie insists, “The idea that migrants have taken council housing is a load of rubbish.”
Barking & Dagenham council doesn’t keep complete records of the ethnic mix of its council tenants. It has kept a record of people moving into council properties—both new tenants and those moving between council homes.
For 2009-10, it recorded 706 such people.
The overwhelming majority, 618, were British nationals. Only eight were from the new European Union (EU) countries in eastern Europe and eight were British nationals returning from abroad.
A further 28 were from other EU countries and 44 were from other countries.