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The Riviera Housing and Health Survey

Plymouth and South Devon Research and Development Support Unit
Date: 2003


A significant proportion of housing research seeks to influence government policy on health inequalities. While previous studies have suggested there is a link between substandard housing and health deficiencies, identifying causality among a range of other contributory factors is often challenging.

Key research Question

By undertaking a large-scale study of social housing tenants, the project aimed to create additional evidence of the independent effect of poor housing conditions on negative mental/physical outcomes for individuals, with a view to informing landlords, health professionals, policy-makers and researchers. Within this broad question lie more complex queries such as: Are there specific housing issues that are more deleterious to health than others? Are particular health problems more likely to be observed than others?

A subsidiary objective was to establish baseline data on housing conditions and the prevalence of illness across the entire housing stock with a view to assessing changes over time as major renovation programmes were implemented.

Summary of activity

A desk-based review of available literature on the impact of housing conditions on health was undertaken. Data were collected via a postal survey distributed among tenants of a social housing provider based in SW England. The survey, which was completed by 1053 households, asked residents for details of their property (type and condition), household characteristics and health status. It was analysed using statistical techniques (e.g. frequency distributions and multivariate analyses) to try to detect causal relationships.


The literature review concluded that while extant research indicated an association between certain physical health issues (respiratory-related), mental conditions (e.g. stress and anxiety) and inferior housing, the quality of such work was inconsistent.

The data on housing conditions revealed fairly high levels of negative issues such as mould, cold and damp, while those on health indicated a much poorer status than that of the general population. However, a detailed analysis taking into account a number of variables suggested that it is only mental health and wellbeing for which a clear negative impact of poor housing can be evidenced.


Further research should focus on monitoring any changes in mental health and wellbeing in future retrofit interventions.

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