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Housing, health and inequality

Housing is an important social determinant of health. COVID-19, and the actions taken to mitigate its spread, highlight the central role of the home in people’s lives. With the country in lockdown people must stay in their homes with very limited exceptions. These unprecedented restrictions highlight inequalities in housing and the repercussions for health.

Dr Amy Clair’s work with former ISER researcher Dr Amanda Hughes provides new evidence on the links between housing and health using biomarker data (Clair and Hughes, 2019). They use a C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker associated with infection and stress, alongside information relating to housing details, demographic characteristics and health behaviours taken from the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Their results show that a number of housing characteristics are associated with CRP, including tenure and building type. Specifically, private renters have higher CRP than those in other tenures, likely due to poor housing security, worse housing conditions (such as cold and damp) and also to the smaller average size of privately rented homes than owner-occupied ones. Relatedly, detached homes, i.e. larger homes, were associated with better CRP levels than other building types. Although all sections of the population are facing wellbeing impacts, the relationship between housing and health – including mental wellbeing – is particularly relevant for children in environments of financial uncertainty and strained family relationships (Clair et al. 2016a and 2019a), disabled people, and ethnic minorities who may face additional hardship due to discriminatory attitudes.

Dr Clair’s work in response to COVID-19 will be to investigate the impact of the current UK government policy initiatives on people’s housing experiences and consequences for health. For example, she plans to explore the take-up and impact of mortgage holidays, and the strategies and outcomes for renters who have not benefitted from such protections. In the longer term her research will continue to focus on the relationship between housing and health, including studying evictions and forced moves, and bringing together evidence from other European countries to provide a new comparative perspective (Clair et al. 2016b and 2019b).