Successive British governments have pursued the aim of ensuring ‘a decent home for every family at a price within their means’ (Department of the Environment, 1971). And yet in 1988, the number of households accepted by local authorities in England for rehousing because they were homeless was 116 000. This represented a rise of over 100 per cent since 1978. As far as the quality of housing is concerned, the English House Condition Survey of 1986 reported that one-quarter of the nation’s housing stock was defective in some respect and that nearly 5 per cent of dwellings (that is, just under one million) were so bad as to be deemed unsuitable for human habitation (Hills and Mullings, 1990). On the subject of affordability, spiralling house prices during the 1980s — when there was an increase in real terms of over 90 per cent between 1982 and 1989 — placed home ownership beyond the means of many households. Thereafter stagnant or falling prices, and sharp prices in mortgage interest rates, placed many recent buyers in severe difficulties. An increasing number of borrowers fell into arrears with their mortgage payments and, in some cases, there were loan foreclosures and property repossessions.
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