Dickensian blocks: East London's contemporary housing landscape

Summer 2015

London’s East End has stood at the vanguard of gentrification and class struggle for the better part of two centuries. The great variety of social housing schemes that co-exist today within the borough of Tower Hamlets can be seen as an historical index of social engineering made manifest, a legacy of public policy on housing the poor, including Victorian model workers’ tenements, modernist tower blocks and large-scale council housing estates. There are many similarities between the Victorian liberal agenda and the neoliberal agenda of the present-era Cameron government concerning the housing of low-income people, as social housing is undermined, and inequality in housing increases. Both sought to distinguish the ‘deserving’ from the ‘undeserving’ poor in their scrutiny of public assistance. The logic of contemporary Conservatism is truly Dickensian: their main concern is to prevent the poor from making demands on society. The right to buy policy has led to a great diminishment of social housing stock; housing associations that have taken over council housing are strapped for cash and raising rents; while the affordable part of the private sector is becoming increasingly squalid.

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