Research into practice

Neil Thompson looks at a study on the effects
of different types of housing on the quality of life enjoyed by
older people.

According to new research, the chances of a
poor quality of life in old age increase by 50 to 70 per cent for
people who live in rented housing compared with those who own their
own home. This is partly explained by people in the rented housing
sector having worse health and less healthy lifestyles (for
example, in relation to smoking). A number of other relevant issues
were identified:

– The
more deprived the neighbourhood the older people lived in, the
higher the likelihood that they would score poorly on quality of
life. However, their own housing tenure appeared to be more
significant than the nature of the neighbourhood itself.

Those who were “dependent” (living with someone who is not a
spouse) scored at a lower level on quality of life measurements
relating to physical functioning when compared with independent
people (living alone or with a spouse), and not in sheltered
housing or some form of residential care.

– The
likelihood of being in the lowest fifth in terms of “quality of
life” increases with age.

  Women tend to have a
poorer quality of life than men.

research focused on people aged 75 years and over and used data
from 8,734 interviewees drawn from 23 GP practices. The key
measurement of “quality of life” was established by reference to
four sets of questions from the Sickness Impact Profile: home
management; mobility; body care and movement; and social

between old age and poverty have been established for some time
now1 and so we should not be surprised to learn that
inequalities in housing tenure appear to be linked to quality of
life in old age. However, the extent of the difference between
those in rented housing and those in owner-occupation is clearly
quite marked.

is useful research insofar as it draws important links between
older people and social inequality, a subject often neglected.
Consider, for example, how much attention is paid to other forms of
inequality compared with the relatively low level of interest in
ageism and related matters.2 It is also important
because it draws attention to the importance of housing, adding
weight to the growing recognition in community care policies and
practices relating to older people that housing is often a crucial
feature of people’s lives and circumstances. This trend is
demonstrated in part by the number of social services departments
that have amalgamated with housing departments (although it remains
an open question as to whether this necessarily brings about a
greater integration of housing and social care

From a
policy point of view, this research strengthens the view that
housing issues need to be fully integrated into community care
policies and action plans if a commitment to tackling
discrimination and social inequality is to be more than rhetorical.
To improve community care services it would seem that we have also
to improve housing. From a practice point of view, perhaps the
strongest message this research gives us is that assessment needs
to address housing issues as fully as possible, to ensure that key
aspects of inequality are not neglected.

– The
research is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s
Growing Older programme. For details, visit  

Neil Thompson is director of
Avenue Consulting (
) and visiting professor at the University of Liverpool. He is
co-author of Supervision and Leadership Skills, a training
pack published by Learning Curve Publishing


1 C Phillipson,
Capitalism and the Construction of Old Age, Macmillan,

2 N Thompson,
Age and Dignity: Working with Older People, Arena,


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