Making accommodation affordable and accessible to those in need has been a constant priority in the UK for decades.

The delivery of social housing in the UK has been dictated by government policies and legislation, and by events that have impacted society and our way of life.
This timeline takes you through the history of social housing, and how we grew from helping to rebuild after World War II to becoming a vital cog in the UK’s housing sector.

Select a year from the timeline below or scroll down to see the whole story.

Aerial photo of Birmingham, England, 1946

The idea of ‘rebuilding’ after the war was at the forefront of Britain’s thinking. Homes were needed fast but cheap. To aid this, the concept of prefabricated houses was born.


Map and example of post war reconstruction

All of this growth required some kind of order. 1947 saw the introduction of town planning.




World War II created a significant need for new houses across the country but particularly in those areas affected by bombing raids, where overcrowding was now rife. This was particularly exacerbated by the almost non-existent housebuilding programme during the war years, and the ‘baby boom’ of the late 1940s. The need for good-quality housing to move people out of ‘squalor’ was widely recognised.

Black and white image. Post war repairing bomb damaged housing.

In 1944, building new towns moved up the agenda and the Abercrombie Plan was born. Settlements for around 60,000 people were proposed across the country, the first of these to become a reality being Stevenage.



In 1948, the National Health Service was established by the post-war Labour government, representing a fundamental change in the provision of medical services. The GP service became organised on the basis of a ‘capitation fee’ paid by the government on every patient registered with a doctor.

The first day of the NHS, 1948 at Park Hospital


After returning to Government, and with new planning and housing measures in place, the Conservative Party set about looking to stimulate the building of new homes and replacing those that were no longer fit for purpose. It was a mammoth task, and one that could only be achieved through significant public investment in housing.

Social housing buildings and chart showing investment peak in the 1950s.
Fig. 1

Investment in social housing hit its peak in the 1950s. Ambitious targets were set and the introduction of the ‘People’s House’ came to fruition.



Britain switched on its first nuclear power station, Calder Hall, on 17th October 1956. It was the first in the world to supply substantial quantities of electricity to a national system and was opened by Elizabeth II. It ended up being operational for 47 years before closing in 2003.

Calder Hall opening by the Queen


Men working in a prefab housing, post-war.

Following the First and Second World War, clearing the slums became a major focus. Authorities were given new power to purchase land with a view to maximise its use, with minimal involvement from housing associations.


Map of green belt plan around London.

Upon a return to power, the Conservative Government sought to increase home ownership across the nation. The notion of ‘Green Belts’ were also introduced to act as a buffer for all of these new homes – a controversial aspect of planning still in place today.



The 1964 Housing Act established the Housing Corporation, the public body to fund and regulate housing associations in England. 1965 saw the introduction of the first set of national building standards, the Building Regulations 1965, replacing the by-laws for construction that existed until then.

Aerial of high-rise homes in black and white

After peaking in the 1950s, council housing had begun its decline as private developers stepped up to the plate to provide new housing, often for home ownership. Meanwhile, a lack of available land in towns and cities meant that a new approach to maximising land was needed.



The 60s were largely seen as the golden age of pop music. The Beatles led the ‘British Invasion’ with their unsurpassable popularity around the globe, while acts such as The Who and The Kinks spoke to a slightly edgier audience.

The Beatles i Hötorgscity, Stockholm 1963


Example of high-rise homes in the 60s with chart of dwellings completed by tenure in England.

High-rise developments were seen as an effective way of solving the post-war housing crisis: more homes could be built on less land and it took full advantage of smaller, inner city sites. By 1968, the total number of new homes built was 425,830 – the highest level achieved in the UK.


Cathy Come Home TV play
Fig. 2

In 1966, BBC TV play Cathy Come Home became very popular when it highlighted the homelessness and poor housing issues of 1960s. The hard-hitting drama contributed towards the formation of the homeless charity Crisis in 1967. The charity Shelter was also launched in 1966.



First housing bubble, urban decay, and the desire for home ownership

The Conservative Government of the early 1970s placed much emphasis on economic growth, which saw the first rapid increase of house prices. With housing getting more expensive, and councils no longer building homes in great numbers, when Labour came to power in 1974 they needed someone else to provide housing for low-earners. Could housing associations be the answer?

Terrace houses aerial with chart of social completions by tenure since Housing Act 1974
Fig. 4

The 1974 Housing Act saw large-scale funding by Government of the housing association sector.

This Act marked the beginning of a significant increase in development of housing associations, almost double that of the previous 25 years.


Polaroids showing home driveway

Home ownership was continuing to grow throughout the 70s, leading to the creation of the UK’s first ‘housing bubble’.


Housing Act 1974 and House front
Fig. 3


1977 marked the 25th year of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, and celebrations took place throughout the year for her Silver Jubilee. In addition to numerous street parties and celebrations in Britain, the Queen opened the Jubilee Walkway and the Southbank Jubilee Gardens.

Queen greeting people celebrating Silver Jubilee

Margaret Thatcher, the Right to Buy, and stock transfer

When the Conservatives returned to power in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher, they did so by encouraging home ownership as a priority. This extended to lower earners in council housing, and much to the chagrin of local authorities and to great opposition from Labour, they saw giving council housing tenants the right to buy their homes as an answer.

Primer Minister, Margaret Thatcher with family during the launch of The Right to Buy scheme.

The Right to Buy scheme was introduced after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. It was a scheme initially proposed by the Labour Party in its manifesto for the 1959 General Election.


Brick and concrete facade of social housing building

Large-scale stock transfer diminished the accounts of the councils, hampering their ability to carry out repairs and improvements. As a result of this, many people were now faced with structural problems with some of the concrete houses, which made them unmortgageable and hard to resell.



Front of terrance houses
Fig. 5

By 1982, sales hit an all-time peak of over 240,000, and in 1984 the available discounts were increased. Between 1979 and 1995, 2.1 million properties were transferred from the public sector under Right to Buy.



1986 saw the birth of the now infamous Live Aid concert. Founded by musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, the concert aimed to raise funds to support the famine relief in Ethiopia, and was held simultaneously at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and Wembley Stadium in London. The concert raised over $127 million for famine relief.

Bob Geldof performing at Live Aid
Fig. 6


Aerial of detached and semi-detached homes
Fig. 7

The Right to Buy ushered in the second housing bubble, with house prices rising dramatically in the late 80s.


Housing Act 1988


In 1989, while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland, Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea of the World Wide Web, a new way of using existing internet technology to share information. He wrote the first web browser the following year.

Tim Berners-Lee
Fig. 10

Second housing bubble, collapse of council housing, and reform of housing associations

With the Right to Buy scheme still going strong and reducing the number of council homes available, and a Government with the view that councils were not meeting the needs of their tenants, someone else had to step in to build new, and maintain old, social housing. Once again, housing associations were seen as the potential solution.

Photo film with sample people living in social housing estates and aerial of the state of it during the 80s.
Fig. 8Fig. 9

In 1987, the Government set out to address issues within the housing system and introduced the Housing Act 1988. Not only did this give council tenants the right to transfer to other landlords, it also spelled out how councils could seek to dispose of their housing stocks.


Housing associations were now having to operate under far greater risk than before. With the introduction of the policy of Housing Action Trusts, the strategy shifted to target run-down estates and give them the choice of who would be able to run them.


Tony Blair, 2002

An early pledge of Tony Blair’s was to stick to the spending plans of the Conservative Government. With the introduction of the ‘New Labour’ manifesto, spending on social housing slumped in the years to follow.


Chart depicting how UK banks have used the money they created
Housing building in 2009
Fig. 12

Right to Buy shifted when powers for the scheme were given to Scotland and Wales. Discounts were reduced and restrictions brought in, all addressed in the Housing Act 2004. This, along with rising standards in social housing, ushered in a huge shift in the market.



New Labour: The third housing bubble

Labour returned to power for the first time in 19 years in 1997 with a landslide majority. Labour wanted to be seen as a party that provided a socially progressive ideology with economic responsibility. With access to finance becoming more and more easy, home ownership came into the reach of many who could not before.

Polaroids of homes
Fig. 11

New Labour saw strong economic growth, but that growth also meant rising house prices. Britain saw its third housing bubble until 2007 when the financial crash brought an end to the boom.



On 29th June 2007, Apple launched the iPhone at the Macworld convention in San Francisco. The iPhone helped turned Apple, which Steve Jobs co-founded with his friend Stephen Wozniak in California in 1976, into one of the world’s most valuable corporations.

First iPhone launch
Fig. 13


The economic crash

The period 2007 to 2010 saw one of the most significant global financial crashes since the Second World War, and the UK was not outside of its reach. The crisis caused banks to limit their new lending to businesses and households, which caused prices in these markets to drop. The house price bubble burst.

Evening Standard headline: Banks furious as shares tumble
Fig. 14
Property with sign "To Let/For Sale"
Fig. 16

The financial crisis had a massive impact on new houses being built; numbers plummeted and the market slumped. This had a huge impact on public housing.



Prince William married Kate Middleton in a lavish wedding at the beginning of 2010, a ceremony watched by millions around the world. The couple emerged from Westminster Abbey as newlyweds before taking a horse-drawn carriage to Buckingham Palace, where they greeted royal fans who were waiting along the route.

Prince William and Kate Middleton royal kiss in balcony
Fig. 18
Aerial of social housing homes
Fig. 15

After Blair’s departure, new targets were set by Gordon Brown in the Green Paper. Taxpayer funds were used to kickstart stalled projects and social landlords were aided through the credit crunch.


Council Housing Vauxhall Estate
Fig. 17


Polaroids showing East Village, 2015
Fig. 19

During their time in power, the Coalition encouraged the growth of the private rented sector, in the hopes this would raise standards of housing and landlords.

Right to Buy was extended and would be trialled by five housing associations across the country.


Aerial of town with National Planning Policy papers image on top
Fig. 21Fig. 22

Plans to consolidate statements and documents saw the creation of the National Planning Policy Framework, amounting to a drastic shift in how planning is carried out.


Housing crisis, welfare reform and the shift from grant funding

A hung parliament at the 2010 General Election, where no party achieved an overall majority, led to the first Coalition Government since the Second World War. The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government set about ‘balancing the books’ through significant public spending cuts and reform.

"Bedroom tax" protester
Fig. 20

Capital spend on affordable housing rose in 2014/15 under a Coalition Government with the ‘Affordable Housing Programme’. The decade also saw welfare reforms, benefit caps and the controversial ‘bedroom tax’.


David Cameron and Nick Clegg coalition
Fig. 23

Did you know?

London hosted the hugely successful 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics – the Games were previously hosted in London in 1908 and 1948. The London 2012 was the most gender equal in Olympic history. It was the first time ever that women competed in all 26 sports (but not all disciplines).

HM Queen Elizabeth II
Fig. 24


Boris Johnson
Fig. 25

In 2016, Britain votes to leave the European Union, sparking years of negotiations and political challenges.


The Government sought to tackle the challenge of homelessness and rough sleeping, and eliminate it by 2027, by requiring councils to start assessing the risk of homelessness earlier and set out a roadmap for ending it as soon as possible.


Homeless person in the street

Did you know?

In 2015, the world set out to strike a deal on the issue of climate change. After two weeks of intense deliberation, 195 counties produced the Paris Agreement which came into effect in 2016. The thirty-one page document was intended to deal with greenhouse gas emission mitigation.

Arc de Triomphe Paris Agreement

Brexit, the Grenfell Tragedy, and a new regulator

The Conservative Party secured an unexpected majority in 2015 under David Cameron, but his honeymoon was short-lived as the long-promised referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union saw the public vote to leave. Meanwhile, a fire at a west London tower block set in motion significant reforms to both building safety and social housing regulation.

Grenfell Tower after fire, covered in scaffolding and green heart banner that reads: "Forever in our hearts"
Fig. 26

The terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower generated calls for greater scrutiny around health and safety issues, in particular fire regulations, building materials and construction standards for all buildings.


Social housing buildings
Fig. 27

Changes to how social housing was regulated kicked off in 2017, marking the beginning of several years of new regulation and requirements for housing providers.


PM Boris Johnson, signing exit deal with the European Union
Fig. 28

After years of negotiations and the collapse of Theresa May’s government, the UK agrees an exit deal with the European Union and leaves the EU in January 2020.


COVID-19 Home test kit

The Covid-19 pandemic shook the world, with the UK going into a full lockdown on 23 March 2020. This quickly changed the way that we lived and worked, as well as how businesses operate.


Aerial of homes

In a bid to improve access to home ownership, the Government confirms that it will move ahead with extending the Right to Buy scheme to housing association tenants.



Covid-19, building safety, and putting customers first

After winning a strong majority to deliver his Brexit deal, Boris Johnson set out to deliver his promise to level-up the UK economy. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and a series of national lockdowns led to a fundamental shift in how we live and work.

Safe building cladding

The Building Safety Act brings in stricter rules for new developments to try and avoid another tragedy like Grenfell.


Work on building cladding

In response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government seeks to improve standards for social housing tenants through the Social Housing Regulation Bill – including ‘naming and shaming’ poor-performing landlords.


Did you know?

A comment on the social climate of modern-day South Korea, ‘Parasite’ made waves throughout the world of cinema and went on to become the first non-English film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Director Bong Joon-ho also won Best Director as well as picking up a further two awards, making Oscar history.

Cast of film "Parasite"
Fig. 29