Marginalization and subsidized individualism : the sale of council houses in the restructuring of the British welfare state

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Journal article

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International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

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John Wiley and Sons


In Britain, debates around council house sales have shifted considerably since it became a significant aspect of housing tenure change in the late 1960s. From what was seen as an isolated ideological battle in the sphere of housing consumption, or a simple political response to the perceived demand for home ownership among sections of the working class, the sale of public sector dwellings now sits within a much more generalized debate and a much wider set of theoretical arguments. What was seen as a parochial housing policy is now seen as part of an international phenomenon. Similar housing debates can be observed in countries such as France, West Germany and Sweden. We now discuss sales in terms of privatization, a term which prior to the election of the Conservative government in 1979 was little used outside the more rarified circles of sociology and economics. In many ways, council house sales can be seen to have formed the vanguard of attempts to restructure social and economic relations. Policies of privatization now encompass sales of assets in the public market and non-market sectors such as British Telecom, British Rail or British Petroleum,public bodies such as Companies’ House, the disposal of land and buildings and the hiving off of various activities of the principal instutu-tions of the welfare state. It is the disposal of the public housing stock which has, however, emerged as one of the most sustained and significant policies of the privatization programme. Between 1979 and 1983 it generated £2 billion in cash receipts. Only the recent sale of British Telecom has exceeded this amount. The shape of Britain’s housing policy is now clearly being dictated by the Treasury rather than the Department of the Environment. Economic concerns have always dominated housing policy but its disguise as some form of social policy has worn thinner than ever.



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Copyright © 1986, John Wiley and Sons

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Forrest, R., & Murie, A. (1986). Marginalization and subsidized individualism: The sale of council houses in the restructuring of the British welfare state. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 10(1), 46-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.1986.tb00004.x