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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Housing for Health

A research project of the Department of Geography.


This programme of research has been running for fifteen years. It is concerned with the residential context of health and safekeeping, as well as with way health histories, experiences and prospects impact on housing attainment. The work explores the complex interaction of housing, health and wellbeing; the findings point towards a discrimination explanation for health inequalities.

The empirical research is largely contained in three UK projects:

  1. Health and the housing market (ESRC) (with Donna Easterlow, Moira Munro and Katrina Turner)
  2. Housing provision for people with health and accessibility needs (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) (with Alan Alexander, Ann McGuckin and Christine Walker)
  3. Safety as a social value (with Helen Roberts and Carol Bryce)


These projects chart the pathways of people experiencing a range of health conditions and impairments into, and out of, diferent housing tenures and environments. Broadly the aims are:

  1. To establish the effectiveness of prioritising access to social renting as a way of meeting health-related housing needs
  2. To consider the extent to which the healthy profile of owner occupation reflects its therapuetic qualities, or testifies to processes of exclusion
  3. To better understand how health inequalities in housing arise and are reproduced
  4. To recognise the contribution of lay perspectives and experiences to both understanding and tackling health inequalities


These studies include a range of quantitative and qualitiative methods including:

  • A survey of over 800 households seeking to move into, or within, the social rented sector to meet health-related and accessibility needs
  • A survey of social landlords' policies and practices around housing for health
  • Case studies of the way 9 UK local authorities use housing interventions to meet health needs
  • Qualitative interviews across the UK to show how health trajectories and housing pathways interact
  • A child accident prevalence study and case studies of accident and near-accident events


For a full list of the two books, 21 papers, and 16 other research notes and reports from these projects, please contact Susan Smith on Some key findings are as follows:

'Health and the housing market' provides evidence for a discrimination, rather than contextual, explanation for the housing and labour market positions of people whose health is at risk. See, for example:

  • Smith, SJ and Easterlow, D. (2005) 'The strange geography of health inequalities'. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 30: 173-190

'Housing provision for health-related needs' shows how important health has been in driving most systems of housing allocation in the UK. The findings suggest that suspending the price mechanism can ‘work’ - that rehousing can have therapeutic effects - thus challenging neo-liberal arguments to the contrary. What happens next, however, is critically limited by the size, quality and geography of the remaining social rented stock. See, for example:

  • Smith, SJ, Alexander, A and Easterlow, D. (1997) 'Rehousing as a health intervention: miracle or mirage? Health and Place 3: 203-216

A key finding from our study of 'Safety as a social value' is that there is a large reservoir of un- or under-used knowledge and skills around accident prevention in the lives of parents and their children. This is discussed in:

  • Roberts, H., Smith, S. J. and Bryce, C. (1993) Prevention is better... Sociology of Health and Illness 15, 447-63
  • Roberts, H., Smith, S. J. and Bryce, C. (1995) Children at risk? Open University Press