In the second of our blogs in the lead up to Election 2014 we examine where our politicians stand on housing and how these policies affect children. The first blog in the series was about child poverty in New Zealand.
By Deborah Morris-Travers, UNICEF NZ National Advocacy Manager.
Once upon a time, the Kiwi dream included home ownership. These days, renting a warm, dry home and having stable tenancy can often be as big as the dream gets. For many, home ownership is not considered possible.
In the absence of any regulation, housing costs – for buying and renting – rose steadily during the 1990s then soared in the period 2001-2008, and since then have only fallen back very slightly. High housing costs lead to families living in homes that are cold, damp, overcrowded and unsafe for children. They can also lead to families moving frequently, a situation that impacts negatively on children’s education and their sense of connection to their community.
New Zealand has high rates of preventable infectious diseases linked to poor housing: asthma, pneumonia, bronchiolitis, skin infections and more, leading to the very high health needs of children living in poverty and poor housing.
Babies and small children spend more time at home than older children do, so they are most susceptible to the health impacts of cold, damp, overcrowded housing. We see this in health statistics showing that 60 babies die before the age of 1 year from conditions linked to socio-economic status.
In recent years, the Government has invested in programmes to insulate homes. When children arrive at hospital with poverty-related illness, efforts are now made to assess the quality of their home and address any concerns. These are very important steps in the effort to improve child health. Of course, children need to be healthy to participate fully in early childhood and school education.
When we asked the political parties about their housing policies, we were pleased to see the emerging consensus around a Warrant of Fitness (WOF) for rental properties. This was a key recommendation of the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty because current housing regulations date back to 1947 and fail to ensure that housing meets minimum health and safety standards.
The Government is currently trialing a WOF for State houses and maintains it is important for the Government to “have its own houses in order” before looking at a WOF for private rentals. With most children in poverty living in private rentals, UNICEF NZ is encouraging all political parties to ensure these properties are brought up to a standard that support children’s health.
All of the parties have articulated policies aimed at improving home ownership rates, through initiatives such as grants or capitalising KiwiSaver. Some are also committed to significant building efforts to increase the supply of housing.
However, none of the parties have signaled to us a review of the Accommodation Supplement or other measures that would make rental properties more affordable to families. Government figures show that almost half of the families receiving the Accommodation Supplement spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs in June 2013.
Housing affordability, accessibility, quality and stability all have impacts on children. Housing is a basic human right under the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and determines whether or not people have an adequate standard of living – as required for children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
UNICEF NZ will continue encouraging all political parties to address this urgent area of social and economic policy, because of the real impacts on children.
A request for information was made to all parties and information received has been included. The information was requested to all parties on June 12, 2014 with all information received by July 14 date. The information has been summarised by UNICEF NZ for ease of reading, while staying true to the information supplied.