Sink estate

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A sink estate is a British council housing estate characterised by high levels of economic and social deprivation.[1] Such estates are not always high crime areas although there is a strong correlation between crime rates and sink estates in large urban areas.


The origin and meaning of the term 'sink estate' may refer to being at the depths of society. The phrase came into usage in the 1980s,[2] and was used by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair in 1998, when he referred to "so-called sink estates" in a speech, such as the Aylesbury Estate.[3] Sink estate may refer to behavioural sink, which is a characteristic exhibited by animals forced to live in overcrowded conditions.


In the worst estates crime happens openly while victims are afraid to do anything or have no confidence that the police will act effectively. Encouraging residents to report crime would help turn such estates round.[4][5] Lack of coordination between police and housing departments can exacerbate problems. In one estate women escaping domestic violence were regularly housed in the same flat. Local criminals knew which flat and targeted the women to hook them onto harmful drugs and use the flat for criminal purposes. The police and the council did not communicate over this.[5]

Forcing criminal types together creates a culture of crime where individuals have to be tough to survive.

The underclass (...) [is] a product of ghettoisation. Taking a bunch of people with social and fiscal problems and forcing them to live en masse together is an idiotic idea that is destined to create a culture of perpetually spiralling criminality. If we want the disenfranchised underclass to adopt the morality of the mainstream, social housing needs to be integrated into mainstream society.[6]

According to centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, neglect and segregation caused rooted trouble in UK social housing such as domestic violence and crime. Unemployment, single parent families, and limited parenting skills are cited.[7]

Sink estates can be improved.

  • In one estate meetings were held three times weekly involving all the agencies that needed to share information. Coordination improved and the estate was transformed.
  • In another Lambeth estate a police sergeant familiar with the area organised job fairs, put gang members in touch with employers willing to take on those with criminal records. Many were brought out of crime and into honest work.
  • In yet another estate arson stopped after local lads had played football with a local fire brigade team.[5]


Sink estates are found in urban areas around the country. Many owe their existence to the historic need to rehouse the urban poor, either from Victorian slum housing during the 1920s and 1930s, or from low-income housing demolished during the Blitz. Many of the estates are dominated by tower blocks and garden cities, which have been blamed for discouraging strong communities and failing to provide adequate services to their residents. Urban decay is commonplace, with accommodation often having considerably exceeded its intended lifespan.

In London there are sink estates in the North, East, South and West in the boroughs of Camden, Lewisham, Lambeth, Southwark, Croydon, Greenwich, Brent, Wandsworth, Islington, Haringey, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney. These areas or estates are predominantly found in Inner London although there are also many in outer boroughs such as Brent, Croydon, Barking and Dagenham and Enfield. The Harefield estate on the edge of Southampton was a sink estate in the last quarter of the 20th century even though its crime rate was significantly lower than that of inner city areas.

The West Midlands has been home to numerous sink estates, although many of these have been regenerated or are in the process of regeneration. These include the notorious Castle Vale in Birmingham, Galton Village in Smethwick, Friar Park in Wednesbury, Hateley Heath in West Bromwich, Low Hill in Wolverhampton, Priory Estate in Dudley, Chapel Street in Brierley Hill and Goscote in Walsall.

In the North Midlands the partly redeveloped Manor Estate in Sheffield

Sink estates in northern England include Stockbridge Village (formerly Cantril Farm) in Liverpool, Halton Moor in Leeds, and the now-demolished Hulme Crescents in Manchester.


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of English. p. 1666. ISBN 978-0-199-57112-3.
  2. ^ "Foreign Affairs". Hansard. 26 June 1987. Retrieved 20 January 2016. sink estates to which people are condemned, with no prospect of getting out
  3. ^ Campkin, Ben (2013). Remaking London: Decline and Regeneration in Urban Culture. I.B.Tauris. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-780-76308-8.
  4. ^ The Observer (London) Council estate decline spawns new underclass
  5. ^ a b c New Statesman {London} Why the government must pledge to eliminate sink estates in ten years
  6. ^ BBC {London} Viewpoint: Escape from the 'sink' estate
  7. ^ The Times (London) Britain’s sink estates are ‘national embarrassment’