Social inclusion and housing: towards a household and local area analysis

15 Mar 2012

The concept of social inclusion entered Australian policy discourse and practice following an extended period of conceptual, practice and empirical policy-oriented work internationally, most notably in France initially, the UK and within the ongoing activities of the European Union. Housing is one dimension of disadvantage/advantage typically included in policy frameworks informed by the social inclusion concept, and the related concept social exclusion, in recognition that it can represent a form of advantage/disadvantage in its own right and/or act to ameliorate or exacerbate other forms of advantage/disadvantage.


In parallel with the development and uptake of the social inclusion and exclusion concepts has been a vast amount of development work undertaken around their measurement and monitoring. While this has informed ongoing policy-oriented measurement internationally and in Australia, the frameworks have been less well used for analytic research. Notably, very little research has focused on the empirical application of the social inclusion or exclusion concepts in relation to housing specifically. In this paper we consider the usefulness of the social inclusion concept as a framework to explore the relationship between housing and a wide array of multiple forms of disadvantage empirically, and assess how it might be used in this way.

This paper is the first from an Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute- funded 2010–12 research project, Social inclusion and housing: a household and local area analysis, whose overall aim is to investigate the nature and role of housing in generating social inclusion/exclusion for households in different types of local areas. The overarching research question is:

  • How does housing relate to experiences of social inclusion/exclusion at the individual and household level and how does this relationship vary in more and less socially inclusive areas?
  • To answer this question, the project addresses the following sub-questions:
  • What is the relationship between social inclusion/exclusion and housing wellbeing, at the household level?
  • Does this relationship vary systematically for different types of households?
  • In what ways does this relationship vary for different geographic areas?
  • How do residents’ experiences of social inclusion/exclusion and housing wellbeing relate to local housing markets, labour markets and other local area characteristics?

In this the paper we lay some of the groundwork for the empirical analysis to follow.

Following a brief overview of the definition of social inclusion and its uptake in Australian policy arenas, we consider current understandings about the relationship between housing and social inclusion. Notably, we find that while the relationship between housing, place and social inclusion and the related concept of social exclusion is relatively well developed, there is relatively little focus on the multiple dimensions of housing per se within the social inclusion or exclusion literature and that this remains an underdeveloped aspect of social inclusion research.

Focusing on the empirical measurement and analysis of social inclusion, we then consider the main types of measurement frameworks that have developed for the analysis of social inclusion and exclusion internationally and in Australia. We find that while indicators frameworks are relatively well developed, with a high degree of commonality found across key frameworks, housing is an underdeveloped aspect of social inclusion measurement, particularly among survey-based approaches to measurement. In light of the depth and breadth of housing-related disadvantage now evident across the Australian housing system, we suggest that in order to understand and accurately monitor social inclusion taking account of housing, a comprehensive suite of housing wellbeing indicators is needed within social inclusion and exclusion measurement and research.

Our paper ends with a consideration of methodological issues associated with operationalising the concept of social inclusion for empirical analysis, and issues associated with the measurement of housing and social inclusion specifically. We briefly outline the analytic approach to be undertaken in the empirical component of the research, to be undertaken next, and the potential benefits of the social inclusion concept for understanding housing-related disadvantage and opportunity, as well as the benefits of a more well-developed suite of housing indicators in social inclusion research generally.

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