Brick and Mortar Dreams and Nightmares: a Historical Look at the Role of Home Ownership in Britain


  • Alice Tihelková Charles University


home ownership, housing crisis, Right to Buy, Thatcher, property-owning democracy, council housing


The nationwide preoccupation with the “property ladder” and the high premium placed on owning one’s own home have traditionally set Britain apart from other European countries, where renting has been a popular living choice carrying few negative social connotations. The view of home ownership as the affirmation of the individual’s full membership in society persists to this day, despite the UK currently facing a massive housing shortage and growing unaffordability of homes. Taking a historical perspective, the paper identifies the key developments that have contributed to home ownership acquiring such enormous social value for the British and reveals a number of adverse social consequences of the overemphasis on owner-occupancy. Special attention will be devoted to the concept of property-owning democracy and the Right to Buy policies spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, with the aim of revealing how they contributed to the housing crisis Britain is experiencing at present. In addition to books dealing with history and cultural studies, the paper draws on recent sociological reports, blogs, newspaper articles and documentary films.


Ball, Stuart. The Conservative Party since 1945. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998.

Boughton, John. Municipal Dreams. The Rise and Fall of Council Housing. London: Allen Lane, 2018.

Boughton, John. “Social Housing Under Threat – Keep It Affordable, Flourishing and Fair.” Municipal Dreams, June 24, 2014. Available at: <>.

Brignall, Iles. “Young Britons Believe Dream of Owning Home Is Over, Survey Says.” The Guardian, July 31, 2019. Available at: <>.

Broxton, Anthony. “Broken Dreams: the Rise and Fall of British Council Housing.” Tides of History, May 6, 2018. Available at: <>.

Collinson, Patrick. “Boris Johnson and the Housing Crisis.” The Guardian, August 2, 2019. Available at: <>.

Dorling, Daniel. All That Is Solid. How the Housing Capital Defines Our Times and What We Can Do About It. London: Allen Lane, 2014.

“Home Ownership Rate in Selected European Countries in 2019, by Country.” The Statista, February 3, 2020. Available at: <>.

“First Tenants of New Council Homes in Cam Move In.” Gazette, July 26, 2017. Available at: <>.

Flint, Mark. “Changing the Face of the British Rental Market.” Essential Living, November 21, 2017. Available at: <>.

Groom, Brian. “A Pragmatic Kind of Obsession. The Strongest Defenders of Britain as a Bastion of Home Ownership Are Politicians.” Financial Times, March 25, 2013. Available at: <>.

“Half of London᾽s Tenants ‘Struggle to Pay Rent’.” BBC News, April 7, 2016. Available at: <>.

Hunt, Tristram. “How the English Became Obsessed with Property.” New Statesman, February 2, 2004. Available at: <>.

Lawrence, Charlie. “Help to Buy is Finally Being Scrapped. Here’s Why it Was a Terrible Idea.” City Monitor, January 18, 2021. Available at: <>.

“Majority of Briton Still Aspire to Become Homeowners.” pbctoday, October 24, 2016.

Mitchell, Hanah. “Nottingham Residents Speak about Their Pride of Living in Council Houses in Documentary.” Nottingham Post, February 5, 2019. Available at: <>.

Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier. London: Penguin Books, 2001.

Pugh, Martin. We Danced All Night. A Social History of Britain Between the Wars. London: Vintage, 2008.

Ramsden, John. “A Party for Owners or a Party for Earners? How Far Did the British Conservative Party Really Change after 1945?” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 37 (1997): 49–63. Accessed March 20, 2021. <>.

Ron, Amit. “Visions of Democracy in Property-Owning Democracy: Skelton and Rawls and Beyond.” History of Political Thought 29, no. 1 (2008): 170. Accessed May 18, 2021. <>.

Self, Alexis. “What᾽s Behind Britain᾽s Perverse Obsession with the Housing Market?” Prospect, May 24, 2020. Available at: <>.

Sandbrook Dominic. Who Dares Wins. Britain 1979−1982. London: Allen Lane, 2019.

Swenarton, Mark. Homes Fit for Heroes. The Politics and Architecture of Early State Housing. New York: Routledge, 2021.

Thatcher, Margaret. “The Owner Occupier᾽s Party.” Daily Telegraph, July 1, 1974. Available at: <>.

“The Death of the Homeownership Dream for Middle-Income Britain.” Santander, July 31, 2019. Available at: < centre/press-releases/the-death-of-the-homeownership-dream-for-middle-income-britain>.




How to Cite

Tihelková, A. (2021). Brick and Mortar Dreams and Nightmares: a Historical Look at the Role of Home Ownership in Britain. American &Amp; British Studies Annual, 14, 142–153. Retrieved from