A particularly common thing in the UK is for housing to be owned by local councils or non-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 "HUDnote 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. Between inexperience with new pre-cast concrete construction techniques used to erect them and the urgent housing shortagenote , a lot of housing was thrown up in great haste and without much attention paid to good workmanship, souring their reputation with the public. Bad planning (lack of amenities within walking distance, elderly or disabled residents who couldn't cope with lots of stairs housed on the top floors of high buildings etc), the breakup of established communities and irregular maintenance didn't help either. And many such blocks would prove dangerous, as the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 showed.
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 , the long-term unemployed, and teenage mothers who got pregnant just to get a council flatnote . This has not been helped by the 2008 kidnapping of Shannon Matthews, where her mother pretended her own daughter had been kidnapped (her lover was in fact holding her) in order to gain 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."
- 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).
- Harry Brown is set on an unnamed London (TOW says Elephant and Castle neighbourhood) council estate.
- Filmmaker Andrea Arnold grew up in a council estate and has set several films there, including Fish Tank (filmed on the Mardyke), Red Road (the story of a female CCTV operator in the Red Road housing complex in Glasgow, at one time the tallest tower blocks in Europe), and the short film Wasp.
- Attack the Block is about the residents of a council estate battling an Alien Invasion.
- Beautiful Thing, a Queer Romance between two neighbouring teenagers set in London.
- Macbeth on the Estate reinterprets Duncan as a local gang leader and Macbeth as one of his lieutenants who murders him to take control of the gang.
- 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.
- The Jacqueline Wilson book The Diamond Girls is about a family moving from a cushty council flat to a not so nice council house because the mother "read it in the stars". And didn't check what the houses were actually like.
- 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.
- Rivers of London:
- This is where Peter Grant grew up and where his mother and father still live.
- In book four, Broken Homes, an entire council estate is used as a giant magical capacitor and mechanism of for discharging stored magic out over London.
- In Un Lun Dun, this is where Deeba lives.
- In the Village Tales series, beginning with Evensong – which is something of a lampshaded Take That! to The Casual Vacancy – the prospect of a council estate / social housing in the District – which is an AONB in which even the sheds are at least Grade II* – creates a crisis. Until the Duke solves it by running up social housing, in a Retraux Georgian style, for retired Gurkhas and their families.
- 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.
- Only Fools and Horses has the Trotters live in a council tower block in Peckham.
- the Trotters’ flat is in the Nelson Mandela Estate, a Shout-Out to the common 1960s and 1970s practice of naming public buildings after left-wing icons. Of course, the Trotters are quite ignorant of this.
- The Bill has several council estates, such as the Bronte and the Jasmine Allen.
- Doctor Who
- Rose Tyler lives on the Powell Estate before she starts travelling in the TARDIS. Her mother, Jackie, stayed there, as did her father, Pete before his death in 1987, and Rose and the Doctor visit from time to time. The Powell Estate exteriors were filmed on the Brandon Estate in Southwark.
- 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.
- Shameless is set in the Chatsworth estate, a fictional suburb of Manchester.
- this is a Shout-Out referencing the Chatsworth Estate, one of the largest and wealthiest aristocratic landed estates in England
- 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.
- Like Some Girls, the main setting in Chewing Gum is a council estate and is depicted as much cleaner and less crime ridden than typical depictions.
- Call the Midwife: This show being set in the East End in the late 1950s-early 1960s, it plays a bit with the idea behind the council estates, as the biggest, most ambitious estates were built in that era, with the idea that they were the key to good and healthy living for millions of Britons. Jenny Lee's architect friend Jimmy is working on the designs for new council housing and is excited about the prospect of this new form of housing and the vast improvements it brings—proper sanitation, hot running water, gas (rather than coal) for heating and cooking, safe and reliable electrical connections, more space for families, and so on. Jenny is conflicted—on the one hand, as a district nurse in Poplar, she knows all about the horrible conditions in the tenements the council tower blocks are replacing (prime examples being one loo and one cold-water tap for dozens of people cramped into a ludicrously tiny block), but she cannot help but feel for her patients who are being forced out of homes they have lived in for decades, or her own sense of vague and inarticulable unease at what these new modern buildings represent.
- Ted Lasso: Jamie Tartt mentions that he grew up in one of these in North Manchester.
- "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?"
- From Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK":
Is this the MPLA
Or is this the UDA
Or is this the IRA
I thought it was the UK
Or just another country
Another council tenancy
- The sixties Scottish comedy song "The Jeelie Piece Song (Skyscraper Wean)" by Adam McNaughton is from the perspective of a child who's been relocated from the Glaswegian inner city to the then-new tower blocks in Castlemilk. His main concern is that his flat is too high up for his mother to throw sandwiches to him when he's playing outside.
Oh, ye cannae fling pieces oot a twenty-storey flat,
Seven hundred hungry weans will testify tae that,
If it's butter, cheese or jeelie, if the breid is plain or pan,
The odds against it reaching Earth are ninety-nine tae wan.
- "Counsil Estate" by Tricky.
They call you council estate, they call you 'can't go straight'
They call you crime rate, they call you 'can't go straight'
And you're bending all the rules where you bury your tools
Bending all the rules where you bury your tools
- In Blood Brothers, the Johnstones are relocated from the terraced house of inner city Liverpool to a new council estate in the suburbs.
- Moorside in Dewsbury, home of Shannon Matthews.
- The Broadowler in nearby Ossett. Twinned with the last ring of hell. Dirty, falling apart, a drugs problem that is basically "You don't do drugs? Well, that's your problem", no shops, no amenities. It truly is hell on earth.
- The Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, London, considered one of the worst of them all and the scene of a key Tony Blair speech.
- Lancaster West Estate in Kensington, London. Most famous for the Grenfell Tower high rise which succumbed to a colossal fire which started after a faulty fridge-freezer caught alight just before 01:00AM on Wednesday 14 June 2017. Multiple issues including unsafe cladding,note lack of adequate fire safety by the building owners and now recognised as poor advice for residents to stay put in their flats lead to the deaths of 72 people - the cladding in particular turned the entire building into basically a chimney. Residence groups had tried to raise known fire safety concerns for years prior and had been largely ignored by the building owners.
- 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 '80s.
- 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. That and the fact the houses that were sold were not replaced, causing lengthy waiting lists today.
- Further exacerbated by the David Cameron government wanting to extend the 'right to buy' to private housing authority homes, which the authorites in question cannot afford to replace. Meanwhile estates in London such as Sweets' Way that are nearing the end of their lives are being redeveloped as a mix of social/private housing, but the developers often wriggle their way out of providing a near adequate amount of the former. All the while the cost of renting in London is spiralling upwards.
- 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.
- Even wealthier parts of the country have them: the Blackbird Leys estate on the edge of Oxford is seen locally as a very sketchy area. It's about as far from the stereotype of Oxford as it's possible to get, despite being only three miles away.
- The aforementioned Grenfell Tower was in the very posh and wealthy Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
- Charlie Heaton, who plays Jonathan Byers in Stranger Things, was raised on a council estate in Birdlington.
- 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.
- The closest American equivalent, in terms of both intent and image, would be public housing, funded by a mix of federal (mostly Section 8), state, and local programs. Like the British council estates, American public housing is often stereotyped with butt-ugly, crumbling, concrete tower blocks in the slums, designed to concentrate the poor into specially-built neighborhoods far away from "respectable" society and visible from a distance so that everyone else knows to avoid them. The former Cabrini-Green Homes in Chicago and Pruitt-Igoe complex in St. Louis (both since demolished) are among the more notorious examples.
- Housing Co-ops are similar, only run by committees of the residents, and are often found in Canada and the U.S., and more rarely elsewhere. However, they only come close to this trope some of the time- other times, they can be decent or even downright nice to live in. It depends on who's running things, the rules they impose, the income level of the residents, how old the buildings are and where they're located, among other things.
- Channel 4 did a documentary called Britain's Weirdest Council Houses in which the working-class or retired subjects make no bones that they're proud of their council homes and how they've decorated them to express themselves. One retired artist, a former 60's It Girl, called her council flat the happiest place she's ever lived in after going bankrupt and losing everything she had.