Human Rights, housing and child poverty - where do we stand?

How well is New Zealand doing to ensure it upholds its international obligations to human rights, especially where they relate to children?

The concluding observations from a recent review of how New Zealand is performing on its obligation to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) show that there is ample room for improvement.

While the Government’s proposed new legislation designed to reduce child poverty and improve children’s wellbeing holds much promise, the Committee on Social, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) noted it must be well resourced and effectively implemented.

The Committee expressed grave concern about the disproportionate numbers of Māori and Pasifika children as well as children with disabilities living in households with incomes below the relative income poverty line, and recommended that New Zealand:

Strengthen its efforts to combat poverty, in particular among households with dependent children, notably Māori or Pasifika children and children with disabilities … In particular, the Committee urges the State party to accelerate the enactment of the Child Poverty Reduction Bill introduced in January 2018, and ensure that the Child Wellbeing Strategy is well resourced and effectively implemented.

With respect to the right to housing, the growing phenomenon of homelessness and lack of affordable housing options for low-income families in New Zealand was of particular concern to the Committee. It recommended that we address issues of homelessness more effectively by “monitor[ing] and record[ing] more systematically the situation of the homeless” and implementing the “Strategy to End Homelessness”.

The Committee said New Zealand should adopt a human rights-based national housing strategy and, “step up its efforts to increase the availability of quality affordable housing, paying particular attention to low-income, Māori and Pasifika families as well as persons with disabilities and older persons, and allocate the necessary resources for the effective implementation of the KiwiBuild programme.”

With respect to the right to education, the Committee recommended New Zealand provide and resource the reasonable accommodations and support needed to make education inclusive. The Committee was also concerned about the hidden costs of our ‘free’ public education system, which mean that New Zealand households are paying more for their children’s education on average than those in other OECD countries. The Committee recommended that our Government should:

  • take effective steps to address indirect schooling costs, including by implementing the scheme to increase funding for public schools, so as to ensure equal access to education by all children and students.

With respect to the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to social security, the poor quality of living evidenced by the number of children living in hardship, and the high rate of hospitalisations among children related to living in cold and damp and overcrowded houses revealed that our welfare system fails to provide a decent standard of living for families in need of support, and that the quality of rental housing should be better regulated.

The punitive manner in which people who receive a welfare benefit are treated by the system, when they aren’t able to meet the stringent rules, was subjected to scrutiny. CPAG is pleased to note that they took particular issue with the way that sanctions for non-compliance impact on children.

The Committee recommended New Zealand:

  • ensure that persons in need of social assistance effectively receive social security benefits that are adequate and allow the beneficiaries and their families to enjoy an adequate standard of living;
  • assess the effectiveness of the [benefit] sanctions regime, bearing in mind the core content of the right to social security and the best interests of the child.
  • redouble its efforts to regulate the private housing market, including by controlling rent increases, and take effective measures to ensure that housing rental units are safe for living, including by strengthening legislation that require minimum quality standards for heating and insulation in rental homes.

    CPAG teamed up with Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa (ACYA) to submit to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ahead of their 63rd session in March 2018, with our recommendations on what can ensure we are working towards having a New Zealand where all children can flourish. Click here to download the full submission.