Today, 1.61 million people in England live in council housing – only 8% of the population . In 1979, it was 42% of people. Back then, people with no hope of the relative stability of owning property had somewhere stable to live. Now, social housing has become the holy grail, a rare and seemingly precious resource only for the most needy. But the idea that property is a precious financial resource is dangerous. Viewing it in this way can easily make us forget that housing is in fact a necessity, a social good, just like healthcare and education.
Council housing was built on the ideological basis that people had the right to dignity and stability, a chance to raise families, to create secure communities and a good local economy. But the language around housing today, of property, units, and profit, ties us into the myth that housing is scarce. That is not so. If we were to count up the number of empty properties in the UK we would have enough homes for everyone: the government’s own figures show that the “housing surplus” has nearly doubled from 800,000 spare homes in 1996 to 1.4m homes at any one time in 2014.