Certain matters loom large at this festive time of year; have we bought enough food, should we put the holly over the mirror or on the mantelpiece, is there enough tinsel on the Christmas tree or too much? For those of us lucky enough to be living in a comfortable home, these very small things can assume an importance much greater than their real importance. Many figures are featured on the news ; the amount of money spent, the desirable presents and the undesirable, one particular figure stands out for me. Five million people are on the waiting list for a house. A generous estimate of the number of houses actually built in a year is two hundred thousand. The only way I can express the discrepancy between these two numbers is that it is huge! Roughly speaking it will take twenty years to build houses for those people who are currently on the waiting list. Where are these youngsters, these young families, disabled and vulnerable single adults living now? In overcrowded, unsuitable, decaying buildings or B&B accommodation. A rich, industrial, educated country like the United Kingdom is this the best we can do?
At the end of the 2nd World War in 1945 the government decided that building good quality housing at an affordable rent was urgently needed. Aneurin Bevan was the Minister charged with putting this plan into operation by the Labour government elected in 1945. In many cities thousands of homes had been destroyed by the bombing, my own was one of them. Of course we rented the house, to be exact two rooms on the ground floor with my grandmother and the younger members of her family living upstairs in three rooms and a single woman living in the basement. There was no bathroom and the toilet was at the bottom of the yard. We were all safe in the air raid shelter but the house was damaged and too dangerous to go back into. We found temporary accommodation with a relative. Empty housing was requisitioned by the council to provide temporary accommodation. My grandmother soon received the key to an empty house, it had a garden back and front, an indoor bathroom and toilet, a kitchen, living room and three bedrooms upstairs. My grand-parents were delighted and remained there until the end of their days.
My mother found my sister and me three empty rooms opposite a school, the formalities gone through we soon moved in. Where she got furniture from I don’t know, we quickly settled into a pleasant terraced street, a woman and her son occupied the downstairs rooms. Amazingly there was an indoor bathroom and toilet. The whole house was lit by gas and warmed by coal fires. Mother carried the coal upstairs and the ashes downstairs. Father was away fighting for king and country. A couple of months later in September 1943 I started school, a short walk up the street and round the corner into the school yard. The whole of my time in primary school we lived in the same street, the shops and the neighbourhood became very familiar.
After the end of the war in May 1945 and the election of a Labour Government led by Clement Attlee, council houses began to be built on the outskirts of the town. Just before Easter in 1951 mother got the letter to say there was a council house ready for us to move into. For the first time ever we had our own front door, back door and front and back garden and a bathroom. Thanks to Aneurin Bevan it was of the same standard as the very few private houses that were being built, although somewhat short on amenities such as a primary school and shops. The rent was affordable for a family on a labourer’s wage as most families were at that time.
House prices have now risen to a ridiculous level way beyond the average salary. The desperate need now is for decent housing to rent at an affordable rent. The country did it before who is stopping us doing it now, one word comes to mind, it begins with B——.