The history of social housing, how has demand and delivery changed over the last 100 years.


With the recurring demand for social housing, we take a look at the history of social housing and how the demand and delivery have changed over the last 100 years. 

A variety of construction methods have been used to deliver social housing over the decades including prefab houses, quick assemble concrete housing and high-density blocks of flats. The underlying principle of social housing has always been to provide adequate housing for all and to ensure there is good quality affordable housing for low-income households. 

Social housing was previously known as council housing as it was predominantly supplied and managed by councils but over the years housing associations have taken on a bigger role in providing and managing housing.  

The delivery of social housing in the UK has been dictated by government policies and legislation. Driven by an alternating emphasis on the need to build housing in the face of shortages, and the need to replace inadequate housing. The priority of these two focuses has influenced the number of new builds and the type and quality of construction implemented to deliver them. 


Housing for the Working Classes Act, facing pressure to address poor, overcrowded housing conditions of the Working Class. Parliament passed legislation giving councils power to clear unplanned high-density neighbourhoods and build housing in the worst affected areas. By the beginning of the first world war, 24,000 council houses were built in and around London providing Common Lodging Houses for those most in need. 


The Housing and Town Planning Act, following the First World War Britain faced a massive shortage of housing. Councils were given the responsibility to plan and provide homes for the nation and soldiers returning from war with Lloyd Geroge’s famous promise of ‘homes fit for heroes’ setting high building standards. The Housing Act of 1919 was the first to receive government funding and set the precedent for large-scale council-provided housing. 


Prefabricated Housing program, following the Second World War Britain faced its worst housing shortage with thousands of homes damaged or destroyed by heavy bombing. An estimated 750,000 new homes were needed across the UK. Winston Churchill favoured the use of prefabricated homes to quickly deliver housing as a stopgap until permanent housing could be organised. Just weeks after the war had ended, factories previously used to build Aeroplanes were converted to manufacture prefabricated homes. It took as little as 40 hours to assemble a single storey, two-bedroom house complete with plumbing and heating. Over 156,000 ‘prefabs’ were built some of which are still lived in today. 


The peak of council house building. Still facing a housing shortage, a Conservative government pledge to build 300,000 new homes a year. Harold Macmillan was appointed as housing minister and stepped up the delivery of new housing. Councils complete 198,210 homes, the most ever built on record. Precast reinforced concrete (PRC) houses were a quick and low-cost construction method used to build a number of council houses. With growing city populations and derelict bombed-out sites still vacant following the war. Blocks of high-density flats were constructed from steel and concrete as another quick and low-cost housing solution for councils. 


The Right to Buy. The number of Council houses dropped substantially after Margaret Thatcher implemented the right to buy. The new policy enabled council tenants to buy their council-owned homes at discounted rates. An estimated 1.5 million homes were sold off and only a small number of new houses were built leaving a shortage of council housing. 


The Housing Act in 1988, initiated mixed funding for housing associations and made it easier for councils to transfer housing stock to associations to be privately managed. This paved the way for housing associations, rather than councils, to become the main provider of council housing, or what is now known as ‘social housing’. 


The Localism Act 2011, councils are given the power to retain rental income for self-financing and have the flexibility to establish long-term housing plans. 


Housing Minister, Esther McVey campions Modern Methods of Construction and dedicates a major funding investment of £30 million to back the use of modular homes in order to reach the government’s target of building 300,000 new homes a year. The housing minister has said she wants to see MMC being used more in the UK housing industry to drive forward innovation, and to help the government deliver a new generation of green homes. 

An example of a ISO Spaces modular accommodation suited for temporary or social housing.

Modern methods of construction available in 2020 such as offsite construction and modular construction means that long and short-term solutions can be delivered to meet the demand for social housing. Putting an end to the housing crisis that Britain has been facing for decades.  

Prefabricated houses that are manufactured off-site in factory conditions provide skilled jobs. As well as delivering projects on shorter lead times compared with more traditional construction methods, and without the hassles of a longstanding construction site that is liable to unpredictable weather.    

Modular developments offer flexibility on scale and location. For example, ISO Spaces modular developments are permanently portable and can be scaled up or down and relocated as and when required. The portable nature of modular construction also means that projects can be built on sites that are not suitable or accessible for traditional build methods.  

If you are interested in finding out more about ISO Spaces modular developments click here or contact a member of our experienced team today. 

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