Why does housing matter to our well-being?

When David Cameron announced last year there was to be a national measure of well-being the first thing that sprang to my mind was: ‘Surely your home must play an integral part in your overall happiness?’ Not a surprising comment from someone working at a housing charity campaigning for housing to be included in the measure, I hear you say. But the evidence stacks up too.

Last year Shelter commissioned the new economics foundation to carry out an exploratory study to examine the links between housing and experienced well-being.  Even when factors like income and age were taken into account, housing conditions, housing affordability, housing insecurity (expecting to move house soon) and tenure all linked to life satisfaction. The Stiglitz report, which has influenced the well-being agenda in the UK, also makes a direct link between housing and well-being, including on children’s educational outcomes.

Today the Office of National Statistics announced their revised well-being measures – but no housing indicators have made it in. This is very disappointing for us.  The wider neighbourhood may be important to an individual’s well-being – but good quality, stable, affordable housing, and the positive impact it has on your life, is something too often taken for granted by the lucky ones who can access it. The research finds that people who rent are 50% more likely to be unhappy than people who own their home.

As a researcher on a project that talks to people who have recently moved into private rented housing after experiencing homelessness, the sense of relief to have a ‘roof over my head’ and somewhere that’s theirs and stable is overwhelming.

The publication of a separate background article on ‘where we live’ by the ONS did acknowledge the omission and importance of housing indicators. The Prime Minster said in 2010 that well-being would steer government policy – a great principle, but much more meaningful if housing well-being is part of the mix. This omission needs to be rectified urgently.