Changing housing tenure without moving home: the impact on health

Frank Popham and Richard Mitchell, University of Edinburgh

[Project number 30068]


1. To describe the housing situation in 1991 / 2001 of working age people (25 to 64) living in social housing in 1981 / 1991.

2. To assess the impact on health of four groups from aim 1.

a) People who remained in social housing and had not moved.
b) People who became owner occupiers and who had moved.
c) People who became owner occupiers and who had not moved (they bought their social rented accommodation).
d) People who continued to rent but who had moved.

3. To assess the extent to which any health impacts are due to socio-economic differences between the different groups outlined in aim 2.

Although some social housing tenants did purchase their house prior to 1980, the 1980 Housing Act introduced attractive incentives to buy. The impact of this "Right to Buy" legislation was massive, for example 31% of households in England and Wales were social rents in 1981, in 1991 the figure was 23% and 2001 it was 19.2%.

Housing tenure has been consistently associated with morbidity and mortality (those in social housing having worst health) and is frequently used as a proxy for socio-economic position. However, there is a growing body of evidence that housing through housing conditions and local area conditions directly affects health. Despite this, there is an identified lack of intervention studies accessing the impact of housing change (1). The "Right to Buy" was major policy intervention that radically changed UK social housing yet the long term impact on health has not yet been assessed. Although the policy has developed with the change from Conservative to Labour governments, the "Right to Buy" remains an important part of UK housing policy. Of course, there is evidence that people buying their social rented accommodation were more socially and economically advantaged than those remaining in social housing and that the best housing stock was bought (2). So it is important to recognise that any health advantage associated with moving from social housing to owner occupied tenancy may simply reflect existing socio-economic advantage. As the policy matured in the 1990s, the type of buyer and housing being bought changed (2) and so it is interesting to compare the impact for purchasers in the 1980s and the 1990s.

(1)Thomson H,.Petticrew M. Housing and health. BMJ 2007;334:434-5.

(2) Jones C, Murie A. The Right to Buy: Analysis and evaluation of a housing policy. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

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