This chapter begins, as did the previous one, with a discussion of meanings, in this case the meanings attached to the label ‘social housing’. Notwithstanding the definitional difficulties it goes on to use the existing literature to address a number of issues. First, why is it that countries which have politico-economic systems to which principles of profit and willingness to pay are central have developed systems of housing that run counter to those principles? This is of course the ‘why welfare states’ debate, rehearsed in Chapter Four, in microcosm. It is not the intention here to repeat that debate but to concentrate specifically on explanations related to social housing. Second, the chapter explores explanations for the variations in the size and the nature, including the institutional form, of social housing sectors, both across countries and over time. Finally, as in previous chapters, consideration is given to the evidence that, as part of more general tendencies towards retrenchment, governments have been reducing their commitment to social housing.
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