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Feeling ‘at home’ improves health, say Stirling researchers

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The ability to feel ‘at home’ has a significant impact on people’s health and wellbeing, according to experts at the University of Stirling.

Academics, who studied 75 tenants living in rented properties in Glasgow over a year, found that being able to settle in to a new tenancy helped to reduce health inequalities.

Dr Steve Rolfe, Research Fellow in Housing Studies at the University of Stirling, who led the study said: “Importantly, this is not just about obvious housing problems like homelessness or damp, cold properties, but about how much people feel at home.

“In rented property, our study shows that the behaviour of the landlord or housing organisation is key to whether tenants are able to settle in to a new tenancy. This has a direct correlation to their health and wellbeing.”

The decline of social housing stock in Scotland and the parallel rise of the private rented sector has created a major challenge for those looking for affordable homes. The proportion of households in the private rented sector has more than doubled since the turn of the century, now accounting for 1 in 6 households. As a result, more low-income and vulnerable households are renting privately, often for many years.

The research looked at three organisations which specialise in housing people who face a range of barriers when looking for a new home, including low incomes, homelessness or a disability. The study identified four key elements essential for a good housing experience: a good relationship with the landlord or housing association, a quality property, support with financial obligations and a choice of neighbourhood, all of which helped a new tenant to feel at home.

Dr Rolfe added: “Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference. Tenants told us how important it was to have a named member of staff to contact, who actually knew them and understood their circumstances. Where housing organisations can provide this personal connection for tenants, it helps them to settle quickly into their new tenancy, feel at home and, therefore, have better health and wellbeing outcomes. And that also means the rent keeps coming in for the organisation.”

The  Stirling study, which was carried out in partnership with Dr Lisa Garnham from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, focused on different approaches to housing provision across the social and private rented sectors. Participating tenants were interviewed three times over the first year of their tenancy, answering questions about their housing, health and wellbeing, the local neighbourhood and their financial situation.

Following the project, the research team developed a series of recommendations with input from policymakers, public health professionals and housing experts. These included raising greater awareness of the impact housing can have on tenants’ health and wellbeing, improved training for housing organisation staff and providing a named main contact to tenants.

“The role of housing as a social determinant of health should also be embedded in public health policy and practice, and we have recommended that it is placed high on the agenda of the new Public Health Scotland,” Dr Rolfe said.

The study was part of the CommonHealth research programme based at Glasgow Caledonian University and was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Economics and Social Research Council.

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