At the 2017 election, we called for health equity from the New Zealand Government for all.
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Make healthy housing the norm
In 2017, more than 42,000 New Zealanders lived in precarious and insecure housing.
Housing in Aotearoa New Zealand: Key facts
- Living in a crowded house or car will worsen existing health conditions for adults and children, such as asthma, depression and anxiety.
- People living in cars during winter are at risk of developing serious respiratory infections, such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
- The temperature in almost 30% of dwellings is below World Health Organisation recommendations of 18 to 21ºC.
- The stress of financial hardship and homelessness is detrimental to mental health and wellbeing for all whānau members.
- Children have nowhere to do homework or play, and many children living in cars will have gaps in their schooling. This puts them at risk of falling behind their peers, resulting in poorer education outcomes in the longer term.
Shirley is a 70 year old female who was admitted to hospital for an acute chest infection. She was admitted to hospital the previous winter with influenza, though she stayed in hospital some weeks due to infected pressure sores. Previously, Shirley’s foot was amputated due to poorly controlled diabetes. She means she's largely bedridden and pressure sores are a frequent concern. Shirley told clinical staff she often stayed in bed simply to keep warm.
"This house is so cold in winter. Sometimes it feels like the sun doesn’t even come through the windows in some rooms, they are so dark and damp. I don’t remember houses being so cold but then maybe it was because I was younger, and healthier.
"Now that I am getting older, it’s easier to stay in bed all day and at least keep a bit warmer. Last winter, I had to go to hospital for the ‘flu, and they found that some pressure sores had become infected, which meant I had to be in hospital for longer. I missed my grandchildren."
— Shirley, 2017
Government action is required
At the 2017 election, we called on the New Zealand Government to address 3 key healthy housing issues.
Urgently address homelessness and housing insecurity
The Aotearoa New Zealand government needs to:
- increase available public housing stock for low income New Zealanders
- prioritise housing assistance for people and families living in cars, garages, outbuildings, tents, boarding houses, caravans, camping grounds and sleeping rough on the streets
- increase the availability of affordable homes
Introduce regulation to mandate a Warrant of Fitness and Health for residential dwellings
Landlords and property owners have to address the:
- presence of dampness and mould
- availability of fuel-efficient heating options
- provision of smoke alarms
- presence of security locks and window stays
Focus on fuel poverty now
The Aotearoa New Zealand government must:
- provide targeted assistance with electricity and/or gas utilities for low-income families with children under 18 hospitalised for a respiratory illness.
- improve the Warm Up New Zealand Initiative by:
- working with local authorities to improve access to insulation and energy-efficient, affordable heating options
- reviewing current criteria for assessment for funded insulation
- extending it to all of Aotearoa NZ, with a focus on high deprivation areas
In a 2019 survey of RACP Aotearoa NZ members, we asked them to rank government initiatives from making the most difference to people’s health to making the least difference to people’s health.
The top 3 policies were the:
- introduction of Healthy Homes Standards for insulation, ventilation, moisture and dampness for rental properties
- Winter Energy Payment — universal payment to all beneficiaries
- changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, including the Prohibition of Letting Fees
"Acknowledgement of housing’s impact on health is vital."
"Houses are so poorly built and maintained. They must be warm and healthy, and more of them."
Shirley, now 72, lives alone in council-owned pensioner housing after living in emergency housing. Although her new home is accessible for her wheelchair, she often gets lonely.
Age Concern finds around 1 in 4 older people experience loneliness and social isolation.
"We had 42 days to move out. Then the house was sold. We had nowhere to go and our whānau were split up. I spent over 6 months living in a motel."
— Shirley, 2019
Since 2017 to 2019, there was some progress but a 12,000 plus waitlist suggests there’s room for improvement.
- Progress to improve the standard of rental housing has begun but standards will only be effective if they’re enforced.
- The need for public housing is dire and evidenced by the increasing waitlist. Dedicated public housing must be built as an urgent priority.
- Early results from novel initiatives to address homelessness are showing progress and these should be scaled up.