The Labour Party and Housing

The Labour Party and Housing




Lack of housing was a major problem faced by Clement Attlee’s Labour government immediately at the end of World War Two. Much housing had been destroyed or damaged during the German bombing campaign and little could be repaired or rebuilt during the war, as the government had to concentrate its efforts fully on the war.

 

In 1942, Beveridge had identified poor housing as one of his "giants" for future governments to attack. Beveridge considered poor housing to be one of the major factors in explaining poverty and lack of hope and chance in Britain. Beveridge repeated his call in 1944 when he said:

 

"The greatest opportunity open in this country for raising the general standard of living lies in housing."

 

One of the solutions to the housing shortage was for the government to build pre-fabricated homes, which became commonly known as ‘pre-fabs’These were mass-produced and could be sent to anywhere in the country. ‘Pre-fabs’ were complete homes will all fittings already there. By 1948, under the guidance of the Minister for Health and Housing, Aneurin Bevan, 125,000 had been assembled and distributed to areas in need. Demand for these homes was great as the post-war years experienced a ‘baby boom’. ‘pre-fabs’ were meant to be temporary but many were lived in for decades.

 

Bevan also directed his energy at the building of good quality council homes and council flats. The Labour government severely restricted the availability of licences which allowed the building and sale of private homes. For all the work done by the government, there was always a housing shortage as the damage done to housing during the war had been so great.

 

Another approach the government used was to create what were known as ‘new towns’. These were essentially what their title suggests. Beveridge had wanted towns built that had been planned rather than letting sprawls develop unfettered. In 1946, the New Towns Act played an important part in the planned rebuilding of Britain. The act tried to address the problem of overcrowding in cities.

 

The logic of new towns was to build entirely new towns near to an existing city so that the over-spill population from that city could be moved to the new town. To start with eight new towns were built around London: Crawley, Bracknell, Basildon, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn Garden City, Milton Keynes and Stevenage. "Green Belts" were also created around the cities and new towns to protect the land there and also to restrict the unplanned growth of the new towns. Each new town had a Development Corporation to look after its well-being. These planned what facilities each new town needed – schools, hospitals etc.

The government’s commitment to re-building homes was criticised in some quarters even if it was addressing one of the ‘giants’ of Beveridge. Some believed that the government should have concentrated its resources on the building of modern factories, roads and rail lines to allow for Britain to compete in the post-war economic market. The government was blamed by the Conservatives for weakening Britain’s economic competitiveness.






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