Housing policy, the welfare state and social inequality

Authored by: Gregg M. Olsen

Routledge Handbook of the Welfare State

Print publication date:  July  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138631649
eBook ISBN: 9781315207049
Adobe ISBN:


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Housing is central to our lives and widely embraced as one of the most fundamental human needs. The United Nations acknowledged housing as an essential part of the right to an adequate standard of living in its 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25), a position it would underscore almost two decades later in its International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11). Indeed, along with food and clothing, shelter is recognized as a basic necessity in even the most narrow and stringent ‘absolute’ definitions of poverty advanced by neoliberal governments, agencies and think-tanks around the globe today. Yet, however routinely proclaimed as indispensable in official international and national documents, access to adequate and secure housing is far from universal, and a wide range of housing inequalities, including homelessness, can be readily observed across most countries today. Housing policy is a central means of addressing housing needs and inequalities and, despite being one of the more neglected policy areas in comparative, cross-national social policy/welfare state research, has generated considerable debate concerning its standing as either a ‘cornerstone’ or a ‘wobbly pillar’ of the welfare state in the broader and rapidly expanding ‘housing studies’ literature. After a brief account of the significance of housing and the character of housing markets and housing systems, this chapter addresses key dimensions of housing policy and goes on to consider its connections to social inequality.

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