Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 March 2021
The centrality of housing as a home for human dignity and wellbeing
A safe, secure home, built to a decent standard, is central to our very existence, our physical health and psychological wellbeing. It is necessary to facilitate child development and full citizen participation in society and the economy. A home is central to the dignity of each and every person and is the foundation of every person's life. It provides the secure base from which to carry out all of life's function. The importance of a home is shown most clearly by what happens to people when they don't have one. It is visible in the devastating physical and mental health impacts on those who are homeless, in particular on children.
A social justice, human rights and psychological approach to housing emphasises and understands its primary function as meeting the fundamental need of shelter and the secure ontological base of a home. In a widely accepted psychological theory on human motivation, Maslow's ‘hierarchy of needs’ identifies the most fundamental of human needs as ‘physiological needs’, which include shelter (Maslow, 1943). These are considered the main physical requirements for human survival.
Using Amartya Sen's capability approach, housing can be viewed as a ‘basic capability’ that provides ‘a real opportunity to avoid poverty’ (Hearne and Murphy, 2019). Housing that is decent and affordable allows people the freedom to focus on activities other than just survival. Housing enables people to be socially included: it provides an address, which enables access to education, employment, social services, community life, and political and civic participation such as voting; it enables people to form social relationships; and good quality, safe, and secure housing contributes to health and wellbeing.
When control over our housing situation is low (such as being in housing financial stress or living in fear of eviction from rented accommodation), ontological security is reduced, which can result in chronic stress responses. Therefore, access to adequate, affordable and secure housing is important not only for security and shelter but also for good health and wellbeing, and is central to family life and child development, as the home is the place where children grow up and the arena in which the most fundamental social relationships are formed and sustained.