THERESA May has called for an end to the "stigma" of social housing, as she promised £2 billion to build tens of thousands of homes.

Speaking to the National Housing Summit in London, Mrs May said the programme would offer housing associations the chance to secure money for projects running from 2022 until 2028/29.

Downing Street believes the approach will offer long-term certainty to associations to plan new developments.

The funding, for social and affordable housing, is separate to the £9 billion of public funding for an existing programme running until 2022.

Speaking to an audience of housing association representatives, Mrs May said that social housing had been "pushed to the edge of political debate" under successive governments.

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The Grenfell Tower fire last year exposed the extent to which tenants feel "ignored, patronised and overlooked" by those responsible for their homes and safety.

Social homes should be designed, built, maintained and managed in a way which makes clear they are not a "second-rate" alternative to home ownership, she said.

"For many people a certain stigma still clings to social housing," said Mrs May.

"Some residents feel marginalised and overlooked, and are ashamed to share the fact that their home belongs to a housing association or local authority.

"On the outside, many people in society - including too many politicians - continue to look down on social housing and, by extension, the people who call it their home... It shouldn't be this way."

In future developments, social properties should not be "tucked away" out of sight behind private homes, but built so that it is not easy to tell between the two, said the PM.

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And she added: "We should never see social housing as something that need simply be 'good enough', nor think that the people who live in it should be grateful for their safety net and expect no better.

"Whether it is owned and managed by local authorities, TMOs (tenant management organisations) or housing associations, I want to see social housing that is so good people are proud to call it their home.

"Our friends and neighbours who live in social housing are not second-rate citizens. They should not have to put up with second-rate homes."

Housing associations will be encouraged by Mrs May to change how tenants and society view social housing, and also to lead major developments themselves.

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However, Labour warned Mrs May's promises "fall far short" of what is needed for the sector.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said: "The reality is spending on new affordable homes has been slashed so the number of new social rented homes built last year fell to the lowest level since records began.

"If Conservative ministers are serious about fixing the housing crisis they should back Labour's plans to build a million genuinely affordable homes, including the biggest council house-building programme for more than 30 years."

The chief executive of housing charity Shelter, Polly Neate, said: "There are over a million people on social housing waiting lists, and yet last year we built the lowest number of social homes at any point since the Second World War.

"This is why it's good to see the Prime Minister today indicating the Government is starting to get serious about correcting this historic failure.

"This must be the start and not the end. What we need now is more social homes actually being built as well as a big shift in attitude to start viewing social housing as a right for hard-pressed families across the country."

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The English housing survey 2016/17 reported that 3.9 million households, approximately nine million people, lived in the social rented sector - which was 17% of households in the country.

The survey added 10% rented from housing associations and 7% from local authorities.

By contrast, 20% of households were private rented and 63% owner-occupied.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire rejected suggestions that Mrs May's comments represented a break from Margaret Thatcher's vision of home-ownership as a central pillar of Conservative policy.

"I think home ownership absolutely is a really core credo of what I believe and what the party believes," Mr Brokenshire told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There's a false dichotomy of it being one thing or the other - social housing or actually seeing home ownership as well. I think we can do both."

key events in history of UK council housing

The Government is launching a £2 billion social housing programme to run until 2028/29.

Here are the key events in the history of council housing in the UK:

• The first major programme of council house building took place between the First and Second World Wars. Some 17,000 homes were built across Britain in 1920/21, jumping quickly to 110,000 in 1921/22. Housing was a big concern for Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George, who had campaigned on the slogan of building homes "fit for heroes".

• The scale of building fluctuated over the next two decades, peaking in 1938/39, when 122,000 new council houses were completed, but the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 brought building almost to a halt.

• It was not until 1946 that major construction began again, hitting 168,780 in 1949. Between then and 1978, the total number of new council homes completed each year in the UK never fell below 100,000.

• Construction was particularly high during the 1950s. In 1953 almost a quarter of a million new council homes (245,160) were completed - the highest number for any one year since records began. This was a period when successive Conservative prime ministers Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan made housebuilding a priority of their governments.

• Council house building fell dramatically from 1979 onwards. This was a consequence of changes introduced by Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Councils were redesignated as "enablers" working with housing associations to deliver accommodation, rather than "providers". Council tenants were given the chance to purchase their own homes under the Right to Buy scheme, which reduced the stock of council housing. Councils were allowed to keep only a portion of the income from these sales.

• The number of newly built council houses fell from 88,530 in 1980 to 17,710 in 1990. The decline accelerated in the next two decades, hitting a low of just 130 in 2004. By comparison, in 2004 20,660 new homes were completed by housing associations, while 182,700 were completed by private firms.

• In recent years housebuilding by local authorities has picked up again. In 2017 a provisional total of 3,280 were built by councils across the UK. But this was still only 1.7% of the total new homes completed in the UK in 2017, with 16.6% built by housing associations and 81.7% privately.