A century ago the Addison Act made housing a national responsibility.
This charged local authorities with developing new homes for working people. In 1919, Lloyd George promised to deliver 500,000 houses within three years: in 2019 we need more than 3 million social homes. It is clear we need to build more, and better. How is it that we are building the fewest homes since after the war, and to the smallest space standards in Europe?
As Confucious said, the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home. The same applies to individuals: children in crowded homes suffer more stress, greater anxiety and poorer health. Elderly people living alone are vulnerable to loneliness and depression. And as a country, when using resources to cater for a growing population we need to do so responsibly in the face of climate change.
If we don’t create socially progressive neighbourhoods we risk social isolation, segregation and political upheaval. If we don’t create sustainable cities we continue to cause environmental devastation. And if we don’t build spatially generous homes our wellbeing declines.
Someone who understood the connection between housing and its wider impacts was Aneurin Bevan, who interestingly had responsibility for housing while Minister for Health in the post-war government. He said: “In the face of so enormous a problem, there is a temptation to cut standards, to reduce size, to eliminate planning and design – anything for speed – but this would be a crime for which we, our children and grandchildren would pay for 50 years to come; it is a crime we must not commit.” Bevan, like Lloyd George before him, addressed a housing crisis with a far-sighted, humane and progressive response. Today such a response remains as pressing as ever.
Alex Ely is founding director of architecture practice Mæ - www.mae.co.uk. Hear more from Alex in the Keynote Theatre at HOMES UK on Wednesday 27th November at 13.45. Register to attend today: homes-uk-2019.reg.buzz/