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Health and wellbeing in the UK private rented sector | Enhancing capabilities Part 2 | Findings from tenant interviews

COVID-19 has exposed how housing operates as one of the key mechanisms through which social inequality translates into inequalities in health and wellbeing. This in turn raises questions on the multiple ways in which living in the private rented sector (PRS) impacts upon tenants’ wellbeing. The concept of subjective wellbeing is however relatively new to housing research. Satisfaction surveys alone do not provide an adequate measure of wellbeing nor an indication of how well the sector is operating.

The “capability approach” is an alternative way of thinking about and measuring wellbeing. Professor Martha Nussbaum outlines 10 ‘‘essential’’ capabilities that are needed in order to live well. These include bodily health, the emotional landscape, relationships, and feelings of autonomy and control. This study explores the conditions and circumstances through which PRS housing either enhances or detrimentally affects these essential capabilities.

Key findings include:

  • Some people experience living in the PRS as capability-enhancing. Adequate interior and outdoor space, housing quality and local connections, a sense of autonomy and control, and positive relationships with landlords allow people to engage in the daily activities and interactions that are integral to achieving good wellbeing.
  • Some people living in the PRS, especially those with low incomes, experience capability deprivation which is linked to poor property conditions, spatial isolation, feelings of insecurity, illegal or poor landlord and letting agent management practices and issues of affordability.
  • Feelings of insecurity in relation to remaining in the property were reported by numerous participant. This causes harm to an individuals’ emotional wellbeing and housing choices, regardless of whether they are asked to leave the property or not. Statistics on the number of tenancies ended by landlords do not provide adequate indication of subjective experiences of housing insecurity.
  • For some people living in the PRS, certain capabilities can only be achieved at the expense of other capabilities. Consequently, living in the PRS involves a process of risk management and pragmatic trade-offs.
  • Tenancy law only affects perceptions of security to a certain degree. The relationship with the landlord was the most important factor contributed to the perceived risk of housing precarity.

Authors: Jennifer Harris and Kim Mckee


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Date: July 21, 2021 8:00 am

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