Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Reversing Housing and Health Pathways? Evidence from Victorian Caravan Parks

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Reversing Housing and Health Pathways? Evidence from Victorian Caravan Parks

Article excerpt


Caravanning is now a huge industry in Australia, involving 8.4 million domestic caravan or camping visitors in 2007 and sharp increases in national caravan registrations (Beilharz and Supski 2009). However, 'caravan life is invisible, in scholarly terms' (Beilharz and Supski 2009:5) and part of this life is not mobile. Community Service workers and a few journalists (Bearup 2000; Chamberlain 2005; Volke 2001) have provided brief descriptions, but detailed subjective insight and analyses of the lives of permanent residents are largely absent. Such people belong to a segment of society that is diffi cult to access and is relatively invisible. Caravan parks are associated with a poorer segment of society (ABS 2004; Barclay and Mawby 2006; Chamberlain 2005) and some acknowledged links with drug use and violence (Proudley and Wylie 2001), hence a logical assumption would be an association with poorer health as well, but few health studies appear to have closely monitored the physical or emotional health of park residents.

The aim of this article is to highlight a link between housing and health that may have been underestimated: the pathway from poor health and injury towards marginal housing in caravan parks. This line of research reinforces our understanding of the broad links between health and housing already well established (Allen 2000; Bassuk et al. 1996; Berends 2002; Llewellyn- Jones et al. 2004; Manderson et al. 1998) and supports previous research associating poor mental health, addiction and alcoholism with marginal housing or homelessness (Berends 2002; Rota-Bartelink and Lipmann 2007). Following a brief literature review, the origins and theoretical parameters of the research project are set out before a description of the health status of residents is introduced. This is followed by the central evidence on injury and illness pathways to caravan park living.


Scholarship linking class and health has a long history since Engels (1987), The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. Major scholars linking class and inequality to health include Doyal and Pennell (1979) The Political Economy of Health; Navarro (2007) Neoliberalism, Globalization and Inequalities: Consequences for Health and Quality of Life; and Marmot in the long term Whitehall research project (for example, Marmot and Wilkinson 2006, The Social Determinants of Health). Broad health statistics from Australia on many illnesses and injuries clearly demonstrate a marked association between social class or socioeconomic status and health and explanations are generally made for this association in terms of the sphere of production, with work-related injuries and diseases and occupations with high strain and limited autonomy. Explanations are also made in terms of the sphere of consumption where income levels may inhibit good dental care, healthy diets and a non fatalistic approach to health (Burdess 2004; Schofi eld 2005).

Although there is debate about the robustness of the evidence (Besharov 2008), most scholarship demonstrates how poor housing, lived in by the poorer classes, can be correlated with ill health and explained through factors such as excess heat and cold, radon exposure, noise, lead paint, mould and dust mites, accidents and injuries in the home and mental health effects of high rise living (Breysse et al. 2004; Jacobs et al. 2002, 2009; Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn 2003; Mitchell et al. 2002). Although correlations are clear, there is more debate about actual causal 'laws'. The results of large-scale quantitative studies can be complicated and ambiguous (for example, Bassuk et al. 1996). A review article by Allen (2000:49) proposes an approach that combines an appreciation of emotion and individual agency to theorise and explain the 'variability and complexity of the relationship between housing, health and illness' (see also Dupuis and Thorns 1998). There are also some challenges to the general corollary of the 'reverse' thesis that better housing will lead to better social outcomes such as improved health (Weicher 1980 in Newman 2008), and recognition that social capital aspects may be more signifi cant than physical features such as lead paint, heat and cold (Marmot and Wilkinson 2006; Szreter and Woolcock 2004). …

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