An interesting programme on BBC 4 last night largely lauded the massive expansion in local government owned housing in the UK in much of the 20th century, driven partly by socialist beliefs that the state could supply people with better housing than they had, to the point where eventually 60% of the population lived in council housing.
However, it brought out some rather interesting points that showed both the dark side of the spread of council housing, but also what went wrong.
The dark side was how it was an excuse for slum clearances. Large swathes of cities, populated by people in poverty, but living on otherwise empty land or in very cheap rental accommodation, were bulldozed to put in housing estates - for other people. They were not built for the homeless or the needy, but were built for the employed, for couples and families and people had to pay rent sufficient to keep the place maintained.
To get council housing, people needed to be vetted. They needed letters of reference from their employer to prove that Mr. X was a fit and proper person, didn't have any criminal convictions and earned enough money to pay the rent. Those on welfare alone, those without work and those who had committed crimes were not going to get homes provided by the state. Indeed, their homes could be swept aside with aplomb so that the aspiring working classes could get homes.
The result was that even when the grotesque Corbusier style housing estates started popping up around the UK (many built by private investors with extensive state subsidies), their first generation of residents were proud aspirational people on relatively low to middling incomes.
They were almost entirely couple or families. Intact families, not single parent families. They were almost entirely employed and as they were all people who aspired for a better life, instilled the work ethic they had into their children. They lived as a community together, and instilled the same ethic in each others' children. Most of all, because they had to be able to afford to pay rent, they treated these communal areas as their own, with some pride. When a family gained such a flat, they had it until they wanted to leave as long as they paid up. If they stayed, their children could inherit the right to remain tenants.
To a non-socialist it sounds absurd, the state providing permanent housing, but it was the state effectively providing housing on a similar basis to the private sector. By renting to people who aspired, to people who gave a damn, and who had a stake in their new rental homes, it meant the social structure was of people who were not an underclass of criminal parasites, who did not vandalise and terrorise, and who did act as a community of voluntary interacting adults (and children).
Some on the left would blame Thatcher and mass unemployment, because it left many families struggling and men in particular lacking "purpose" and motivation. However, the change happened in the decade or so before Thatcher.
Some on the right would blame mass immigration. Yet it was pointed out that quite a few residents of these estates WERE Afro-Caribbean or South Asian families, with the same aspiration and work ethic as the indigenous British. Some would blame a change in the traditional family, as women did not stay at home to look after their children, but went out working.
One factor is certainly the social change in the 1960s and 1970s that saw the rise of divorce and single parent families. Included with that is the cultural change from families that were tight knit, well disciplined and bound by a Judeo-Christian code of ethics that had hardened during the war, to a moral relativist attitude of "do what you like". The breakdown of traditional families hit both indigenous British and Afro-Caribbean families the most, as migrants from India and Pakistan tended to retain close family ties.
However, the single biggest factor, explained by the programme, was the removal of vetting for council housing. It was deemed "discriminatory" for people to be vetted based on income, so council housing was there for the poor, regardless of employment or indeed criminal history. Council estates became the places were people went to live when they got out of prison, it became the place to live when you couldn't afford anything else or private landlords wouldn't rent to you. The culture of hard work and aspiration was eroded by a culture of violence, thieving, vandalism and disregard for the property and lives of others.
It was exacerbated by the expansion of the welfare state into supporting single parents who had never been married, or de facto couples, into paying more for every child, and so rewarding fecklessness.
Council estates moved from being places were having a home was a privilege, earned by meeting minimum standards set by the owner (the council) and paid for, to places where anyone could go. The result was that they became the breeding grounds for the parasitical entitlement led mob that recently went on a rampage.
It is what happens when you reward fecklessness and bad behaviour, whilst penalising frugality and hard work. Consider that the British government is currently printing money and producing ultra low interest credit on a scale that means the average bank account owner LOSES 5% of his money every year, but still insists on adjusting welfare to that inflation (although few working in the private sector are having pay rises to match inflation).
Consider that there is a debate only now about whether to deny convicted rioters and looters welfare, or to evict them from council housing (and of course the shrill cries from the left about how "unfair" it is and it will just make them do it again - as if their policies stopped it).
The socialism of the 1960s and 1970s saw council estates in the UK sink into the abyss of squalor, bad behaviour and welfarism, as the end of full employment, the breakdown of traditional families, the rewards of unconditional free money and housing, and the end of vetting council tenancies saw the worst of society being hothoused in what one old council tenant described as "holes".
It has failed. It is time to sell out these estates, to stop building new ones, and to let the criminals, the feckless and the anti-social try their luck with charity. Of course those who claim to give a damn about all of them rarely think it is right that they pay out of their own pocket voluntarily, for a charity to help house rapists, thieves and child abusers - but they want you to be forced to do so.