4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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How does housing relate to individual wellbeing?

Dwellings satisfy a fundamental human need for shelter, security and privacy. A dwelling's physical condition, its location relative to amenities and services, and the extent to which it suits the needs of the people it houses, all affect the quality of life of the occupants. Dwellings, as homes, are also important to individuals and families as they can support the development of intimacy with others and personal identity. Because dwellings are often expensive to buy or rent, expenditure on housing can affect the amount of income a household has available to meet other needs.

How does housing relate to the wellbeing of society?

Dwellings, and the neighbourhoods they create, are an important part of the social infrastructure. The quality of housing predominant within a neighbourhood contributes to the quality of the social environment. A poor standard of housing is often associated with problems in other areas of concern such as poverty and crime. Because of the importance of the housing industry to the economy, and to the livelihood of the many people who work in the industry, community wellbeing is maintained if there is steady rather than volatile activity within the industry. Social capital is increased when people work co-operatively in providing suitable housing for those with special needs.

What are some key social issues relating to housing?
  • Having a suitable supply of housing to meet people' needs.
  • Assisting people to achieve home ownership.
  • Provision of assistance for those who may have difficulty in obtaining affordable housing in the private rental market.
  • Providing emergency accommodation for those suffering crisis or extreme disadvantage.
  • Enhancing neighbourhood environments to improve living standards.
  • Maintaining relative stability in the housing industry and thus the general economy.

What are the key definitional challenges?

Housing refers to the wide range of physical structures, or dwellings, that people live in, each with a range of attributes that help to determine their suitability to human needs. It can be difficult to define the difference between 'good' or 'poor' housing given the variation in personal tastes involved and the need to consider the trade-offs between the costs of dwelling attributes (such as location, size, quality of building materials and quality of amenities) and the ability of households to meet those costs. There is no consensus on these matters.

What are the main measurement issues?

There are difficulties associated with identifying groups in need of housing assistance as there are no nationally recognised benchmarks against which problems such as affordability, housing needs and housing quality can be measured. The logistics of collecting data on housing quality (e.g., need for repair, whether insulated, etc.), are challenging. Information obtained from occupants themselves can be unreliable especially where judgments are involved (e.g. the value of the dwelling). The use of experts to obtain reliable measures of dwelling quality by direct inspection is problematic because of the costs involved and its intrusiveness.

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