A particularly common thing in the UK is for housing to be owned by local councils or not-for-profit housing associations. About 20% of housing in the UK is owned by these groups and rented to people, with the aim that allocation be based on their need. The US equivalent, in both function and reputation, is the "projects", officially known as "Section 8" or "housing vouchers", also known colloquially as "HUD apartments".
The bulk of these houses were built in the period of the 1930s to the 1960s. The Second World War in particular created large demand for them, and not coincidentally a lot of space for them to be put.
In the '50s and '60s, large tower blocks were the fashion, resulting in tall, ugly buildings dotting up across much of the UK's cities and providing inspiration for even bigger things in fiction.
In the '80s, the Thatcher government created the "Right to Buy" scheme, which allowed people to purchase their homes at a discounted price after a certain period. This resulted in much of the former stock disappearing into the private market and "council house" becoming a pejorative term.
Council estates today are perceived as places of high crime and deprivation, populated by asylum seekersnote (there is no evidence that they jump the queue at all, although their homeless status can buy them a few more points on most housing associations' scales of need), the long-term unemployed, and teenage mothers who got pregnant just to get a council flat. This has not been helped by the recent Shannon Matthews case, where a mother pretended her own daughter had been kidnapped (her lover was in fact holding her) in order to gain publicity and money from the press.
Many councils have decided the best way to solve their housing problems is with the judicious use of high explosives, demolishing tower blocks and building better houses.
There is also a somewhat prevalent view among the middle classes that people living in council houses are richer than before, but are using this wealth as disposable income rather than for social mobility, as in the joke "What is the technical name for the box attached to a satellite dish?" "A council house."
Contrast with "Friends" Rent Control and Standardized Sitcom Housing, which more often than not are averted here.
Kidulthood and its sequel Adulthood.
Made in Dagenham is about women trying to get equal rights at the Ford Plant in Dagenham in the 1960s. It features scenes filmed at the Mardyke Estate in Rainham (see below).
Fish Tank (filmed on the Mardyke)
Harry Brown is set on an unnamed London (TOW says Elephant and Castle neighbourhood) council estate.
Red Road is the story of a female CCTV operator in the Red Road housing complex in Glasgow, the tallest tower blocks in Europe when they were built.
The director of this and the mentioned above Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold, grew up in a council estate. This can also qualify as a case of Write What You Know.
Beautiful Thing, a Queer Romance between two neighbouring teenagers set in London.
The protagonist of the Joe Sixsmith series lives in one, as does his mother. There's a comment on how the strong-mindedness of his mother and other elderly people in their council has kept it in better shape than the norm.
In the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, the Joshua Che N'Clement Block. There are two schools of thought about it: the tenants want to move out and the building blown up, while the neighbours want the building blown up with the tenants still inside it.
The larger background conflict that influences the lives of the characters in The Casual Vacancy concerns the Fields, a council estate that has fallen into a regulatory limbo between the small town of Pagford and the larger city of Yarvil, neither of which wants the responsibility. Several characters live in the Fields, and life in such a setting is explored in depth.
Number 5 Coronation Street was a council house for several years and many characters have lived on Estates prior to moving on to the street. For the most part the show depicts them as Wretched Hives with a high number of the street less desirable types coming from there with a few exceptions.
Rose Tyler in lived on a council estate before she started travelling in the TARDIS. Her mother, Jackie, stayed there, as did her father, Pete before his death in the 1980s, and Rose and the Doctor visited from time to time.
In the series 6 episode "Night Terrors", the child scared of monsters lived on a council estate.
The 2013 Christmas special "The Time of the Doctor" has Clara and the Doctor spend Christmas dinner with Clara's family at a council estate. The location shooting for the exteriors was the same as one of the blocks used to depict Rose's home.
The first seven series of Waterloo Road were set in Kirkholt, a suburb of Rochdale (a town in Greater Manchester) which in the show and in real life is practically synonymous with its large, notorious council estate.
Top Gear famously placed a Toyota Hilux on top of a tower block which was then blown up. It survived.
Misfits is set on the Wertham Estate, a fictional area in an unnamed city (probably London, given that it's filmed there). All the main characters live in or around the council estate, and it's generally implied to be an extremely rough place to grow up in. That said, they are all petty criminals, so perhaps it's partly indicative of the social circles they move in.
Jamie: My car's gone! It's been stolen!
Nathan: (smiling) Welcome to the neighbourhood! You should've been here last week, someone got thrown off one of those towerblocks, it was carnage...
Jamie: My dad was in the boot!
Featured quite prominently in Law & Order: UK—CP Alesha Philips mentions having grown up in one, and the lousy conditions in them contribute to the death of an infant.
The main characters of Some Girls all live in the same council estate in south London. In contrast to more typical depictions, the neighborhood is fairly nicer with families of all sorts live in it. In fact, Viva's father is a firefighter and Saz is from a large Sikh family.
Viva: Just because we live on an estate, we're not all single mums or drug problems.
"My old man's a dustman, he wears a dustman's hat...He wear gor-blimey trousers, And lives in a council flat!"
The Beatles, when writing one of their last hit singles, "Get Back", had some cut lyrics, saying "Meanwhile back at home too many Pakistanis/Living in a council flat/Candidate Macmillan, tell us what your plan is/Won't you tell us where you're at?"
The Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, London, considered one of the worst of them all and the scene of a key Tony Blair speech.
Seacroft in Leeds, reputedly "the biggest council estate in Europe"; it's not, but it's close and large enough to have its own bus station.
Clifton estate in Nottingham, which actually was the biggest in Europe when it was built.
"Social housing" in the Republic of Ireland has a similarly bad reputation, particularly Ballymun , Dublin and Moyross, Limerick.
Knowle West in Bristol is also an example, the general consensus is that you never go there unless you absolutely have to. It's regarded as the worst place to live in the city. It's showing some signs of improvement, mind.
Benchill district in Manchester, part of the Wythenshawe council estate, was once named as the most deprived district in England. The local government solution to this was to disestablish the district, splitting it up between three others to spread out the bad numbers.
Although the stereotype is that all council houses are at best, plain and boring, at worst, filthy wrecks, some council houses are nice enough for people to buy them as their own; which they did en-masse in The Eighties.
Leaving, of course, the less nice ones still in the councils' possession. This, combined with the problems when only a percentage of the estate; building or tenement is under the councils' ownership when it comes to renovations; repairs etc. is why the policy is not universally well thought of.
Becontree, in the eastern area of Greater London is a huge, but nice-looking pre-war estate; one of the largest such estates in the world.
The Boycott estate in Droitwich, Worcestershire, acquired a notorious reputation as a scumhole. Rather than sort it out, the council decided that if they simply renamed it to Westlands the problems would all go away. Much like the idea that renaming the Windscale nuclear facility to Sellafield would stop it being all nasty and radioactive. The level of success was similar for both measures.
The Northamptonshire town (and Memetic Wretched Hive) of Corby consists largely of these.
King's Lynn, Norfolk has the Fairstead estate, very much the town's Wretched Hive (although the council are trying to improve it).
Leigh Park, located about ten or eleven miles north of Portsmouth, was at one time (or at least according to local legend) the largest council estate in Europe. Known locally as a trouble spot and full of people on the dole, although a large portion of it is now privately owned. Also, apparently, has oil underneath it.
Caia Park (formerly Queen's Park) in the Welsh town of Wrexham. In 2003 it was the site of a race riot involving rehoused Iraqi Kurds and local Welsh.
Denmark has them, too. Usually, they're in the form of apartment blocks, not houses. Gellerup, in Aarhus, is the most infamous, being a ghetto with a high crime rate.
In Northern Ireland, The Troubles has led to many council estates becoming almost exclusively populated by either a Catholic/Nationalist or Protestant/Loyalist community.
A 2012 BBC NI documentary series profiled life on one of these estates; the mainly Loyalist Ballysally in Coleraine. While one of the programmes featured an Orange band from the neighbourhood marching on 12th July, the series generally avoided portraying the estate as a hotbed of sectarianism.
In Blood Brothers, the Johnstones are relocated from the terraced house of inner city Liverpool to a new council estate in the suburbs.