We’ve now covered the key laws that shaped the ebb and flow of the private rental sector’s development from the Victorian era through to the first half of the 20th century. This week’s chapter will outline a turning point in the broader political attitudes towards housing and the role of government which characterised the proceeding decades until the late 1970s.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the distribution of homes was predominately weighted towards private rentals, though this was followed by 32% of the population becoming homeowners and an increasing number of people living in social housing. The interwar years were significant in that they marked the introduction of these new forms of housing, and began the shift away from the system which had dominated British society since the advent of the industrial revolution. Private renting had fallen from around 90% before 1920 to just under 60% in 1939.
The Second World War and its aftermath effected an enormous shift in the nation’s ideological position on housing and how it should fit into the newly-developed notion of the welfare-state, i.e. a change in attitude towards the role of the state in regulating, supplementing, and / or restricting the goings-on of the housing market. This was onset by the landslide victory of the Labour party in 1945, ousting Churchill’s wartime government and hailing in a set of reforms championed by the progressive economist William Beveridge.
The ‘Beveridge Report’ of 1942 (officially entitled ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’) much of the Labour government’s legislation passed in the years immediately following the war, from the Family Allowances Act of 1945 to the National Insurance Act of 1949. It sought to tackle what Beveridge referred to as the ‘five giants’ of ‘want’, ‘squalor’, ‘disease’, ‘ignorance’ and ‘idleness’. The report, which received bipartisan support, argued that all areas of governance, from housing to employment, should be understood as part of an interlinked and underlying social contract of citizenship. All members of the population were deemed to deserve a basic standard of welfare rather than fragmented and inconsistent access to only some of the things that make for human wellbeing. This access, Beveridge believed, constituted a ‘social right’, and the members of Attlee government took it upon themselves to translate this belief into a series of reforms.
These reforms did not all pertain directly to housing or renting. Indeed, the core of the report was that, when it came to legislation, housing could not be approached in isolation from all the other areas of governance. Nevertheless, certain acts had more of a significant knock-on effect on the PRS than others. The Town and Country Planning Act 1944 and the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944, which were both intimately linked to the consequences of the war, are two such examples. The former concerned areas damaged by bombing raids and granted further permission to local authorities to continue the clearance of slums, whilst the latter provided £150 million in funds for the construction of temporary dwellings for those affected.
As we will see in the chapters ahead, these were by no means the only pieces of legislation that came out of the post-war consensus which would shape the sector. But you’ll have to wait until next week to see what came next.