Make healthy housing the norm
The RACP calls on the New Zealand government to:
Urgently address homelessness and housing insecurity in New Zealand
- 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 address:
- the presence of dampness and mould
- the availability of fuel efficient heating options
- the provision of smoke alarms
- the presence of security locks and window stays.
Urgently address fuel poverty in New Zealand
- 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:
- work with local authorities to improve access to insulation and energy-efficient, affordable heating options
- review current criteria for assessment for funded insulation
- extend to all of New Zealand, with a focus on high deprivation areas.
“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. It’s easier to stay in bed all day, and at least keep a bit warmer.”
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 for some weeks due to infected pressure sores. Shirley told clinical staff she often stayed in bed to keep warm, because electricity is expensive. She does not have a great deal of mobility, having lost her left foot due to poorly-controlled diabetes.
“I see the mould growing inside where we stay and I know the house is contributing to Josh’s bad health.”
Joshua is a three year old male who presented with pneumonia, and has been admitted twice previously this winter with the same symptoms. Joshua has a history of pneumonia and bronchiolitis with several hospital stays each winter. His mother reports that he frequently wheezes and coughs, and follow-up between the paediatrician and Joshua’s general practitioner confirms this.
Joshua’s mother has mentioned their housing conditions have changed since she separated from her children’s father, and she is now living with her parents, grandmother, sister and brother in-law and their children. She is concerned about their housing conditions and its impact on Joshua’s health, particularly the “cold and damp feeling” and the mould growing on the walls, curtains and in cupboards.
“When the eczema gets bad I cry because it hurts so much. Mum tries to take me to the doctor, but there aren’t any appointments. The doctor said that baths are really good for the itching, but we don’t have a bath in this house and the medicine was too expensive. I share my towel with Mikayla, and she sometimes leaves it wet on the floor, so it is hard to dry myself. Mikayla’s only five though.”
Amy has been admitted to the Paediatrics ward for a suspected Staphylococcus aureus infection (cellulitis) which has spread to her existing dermatitis. She is receiving flucloxacillin intravenously. Amy lives with her mother, her siblings, and extended family in a rented house. She shares a mattress in the living room with her sisters, with the children sharing blankets, pillows and sheets. Amy also shares a towel with her sisters, which increases her susceptibility to infections.
Key facts: Housing in New Zealand
- 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 per cent of dwellings is below World Health Organisation recommendations of 18–21ºC.
- 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.