Call for widespread implementation of the Healthy homes initiative, which has been shown to reduce rates of children admitted to hospital.
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) welcomes the results of a Ministry of Health evaluation into the impact of the Healthy Homes Initiative and says they should not come as a surprise.
“We are very pleased by the initiative, and especially to see that the Ministry of Health is carrying out such evaluations,” says Professor Innes Asher, paediatrician and CPAG Health spokesperson.
The Healthy Homes Initiative (HHI) was established by the Ministry of Health to support low-income families with children to live in warm and dry homes. HHI identifies eligible families, working with them to carry out a comprehensive housing assessment and complete an individualised action plan to create a warmer, drier, healthier home.
Making housing healthy under the HHI meant fewer GP visits and fewer admissions to hospital for children and fewer medicines dispensed. It is a highly cost-effective programme.
“The results support the initiative being implemented to a greater number of families so that all families are housed safely. This will also require Government extending current legislation with the development of a comprehensive Warrant of Fitness,” says Asher.
Recent research from the University of Otago has also confirmed that children’s health is seriously compromised by poor housing standards, especially damp and mould. “If this alone was rectified, many children would not be so sick they have to be in hospital with serious chest infections,” says Asher.
CPAG has previously commended the Government on its Healthy Homes Guarantee Act but says that it should go much further to ensure that housing is adequate and fit for purpose.
Asher says that children should be free of illnesses caused by low-quality housing.
“Yet in New Zealand, the rate of hospitalisations of children with preventable illnesses that are linked to poor housing is still astonishingly high and increasing. These illnesses may cause these children to be sick for life.
“The Government must not delay developing a comprehensive Warrant of Fitness for tenanted homes in Aotearoa-New Zealand, ensuring that they are all fit for purpose, so that all children are supported to have good health and life outcomes.
“There is still the issue of overcrowding that exacerbates health problems, where families living in private rentals cannot afford to heat more than one area of the house, or have many people sharing bedrooms.”
“It’s critical that family incomes are boosted so that families are able to afford their heating in winter and housing of a sufficient size to meet their needs. They must be able to afford healthy food and other necessities,” says Asher. “We are still concerned by the cost of private rentals, which for many families on low-incomes, are taking up more than half of their incomes.”
Families on benefits still miss out on $72.50 worth of tax credits for their children that is tied to paid work criteria.
“The long-term and increasing shortage of state houses for low-income families must be addressed urgently.”
The Government’s Welfare Expert Advisory Group report made many recommendations to improve incomes and housing. A strong foucus was on using policy levers to ensure adequate incomes as soon as possible.
“Alongside this, CPAG is calling on the Government not to end the Winter Energy Payment this month, but to continue it until income support benefits have been increased to an adequate level,” adds Asher.