Socialist Worker

Addison Act anniversary shows there is far to go

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2663

 

The Glasgow rent strikes in 1915 (Pic: Wikicommons)


This week marks the centenary of a watershed moment for the housing movement.

The Addison Act—named after the Liberal minister for housing Christopher Addison—marked a huge step forward in the spread of council housing in Britain.

It was a reaction to growing anger over poor housing, and an attempt to quash revolutionary feeling.

Although it promised funding for 500,000 new homes, ultimately only 213,800 were built under the scheme.

Prime minister David Lloyd George claimed he wanted “homes fit for heroes” after the First World War, but pressure for decent housing came from below.

The Glasgow Rent Strikes in 1915 saw thousands of people, mainly women, organise against landlords who were trying to hike up rents and evict tenants.

Women hurled flour bombs and other missiles at bailiffs who tried to collect rent.

An estimated 20,000 households took part in the strike—a fact not missed by politicians in Whitehall.

Determined

The British ruling class was also determined to stop the revolutionary tide sweeping across Europe.

“The money we are going to spend on housing is an insurance against Bolshevism and revolution,” explained the secretary to the Local Government Board.

The original buildings built under the Addison Act followed guidelines suggested by the 1918 Tudor Walters Report into housing conditions.

For working class people previously living in overcrowded, dirty, insecure accommodation these homes were a revelation.

In the 100 years since, working class people have had to fight tooth and nail for decent housing.

Today in Britain an estimated 124,000 children sleep in temporary accommodation, and over a million people are on housing waiting lists.

After the Second World War, a huge movement of squatters forced the government to take action on providing emergency housing for homeless families.

Since 1953 when 220,000 new homes were built the number of council houses has declined continuously.

By 1977, councils were responsible for more than 40 percent of new house builds—and by 2017 that figure was just 2 percent.

Tory housing minister Kit Malthouse claimed that council housing was “a proud component of putting a roof over the heads of British people.”

But prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s Right To Buy scheme meant many publicly-owned houses are now privately owned.

For instance, in the year 2000, some 59,000 homes were lost to the private sector through Right to Buy. Yet only 90 new homes were completed in England.

Last year Theresa May announced plans to scrap limits on councils’ ability to borrow money to build houses.

This borrowing cap made it harder for local authorities to afford to build residential homes.

Ministers said the changes could mean up to 10,000 new homes a year.

Effective

But there’s been a long?term hollowing out of the state infrastructure that’s needed to carry out large building projects.

Even Gary Porter, Tory MP and chair of the Local Government Association, is concerned.

“The worry is we haven’t really got the internal capacity as organisations build at scale at the moment, because we’ve had 40 years of having it beaten out of us and nobody’s got the resources internally,” he said.

Today in Britain an estimated 124,000 children sleep in temporary accommodation, and over a million people are on housing waiting lists.

Housing is a human right. It’s important to demand more good quality, secure and cheap council housing.

The Addison Act didn’t produce enough homes, and it didn’t stop them from being sold off into private hands.

But it’s a reminder that it’s not the benevolence at the top of society but rather action from below that forces through change—and that battle still remains today.


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