Housing priorities for a New Zealand where all children can flourish

The upcoming election provides an opportunity for all political parties to put the wellbeing of all New Zealand’s children at the centre of their policies, says Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

Each year, there are around 40,000 hospital admissions in New Zealand of children who have preventable illnesses that are linked to poverty. CPAG’s priority for the 2017 election is the introduction of measures to help substantially reduce child hospital admissions for such illnesses, including urgent solutions to the current lack of affordable, healthy housing faced by low-income families in New Zealand.

The latest Household Income Report shows that families are suffering under the strain of housing costs, with half of all Accommodation Supplement recipients spending more than half their incomes on rental housing. Seven per cent of all children (75,000) living in private housing experience issues with dampness and mould, and live in houses that are hard to keep warm. This problem is more prevalent among children in beneficiary and sole parent families, who also suffer a lack of sufficient income.

If the newly elected government brings in policies to markedly increase the supply of state houses, introduces a system of regulating conditions for all rented homes, and addresses the income needs of low-income families, then we will have a New Zealand where all children can flourish.

CPAG has just released the fourth in a series detailing such policies: Priorities for family housing.

CPAG says that much could be done to alleviate the hardship experienced by low-income families and improve their children’s health. For example, housing conditions would be improved by implementing a Warrant of Fitness for rental homes, regulating rents, offering more secure tenure, and increasing the number of Income Related Rent subsidies across a combination of newly built and acquired properties.

“An increase in the Accommodation Supplement in 2018 will only provide temporary relief for low-income renting families, unless tenants are protected from frequent rent raises,” says Alan Johnson, CPAG Co-convenor and housing spokesperson.

“As an urgent priority a New Zealand Government must build more state houses. Instead of starving Housing New Zealand of much need capital, more money should be provided to the organisation so that it can build more state houses on land it already owns."

CPAG has collected current data on New Zealand’s housing and compiled a list of recommendations to improve housing conditions, supply and affordability. Implementing these recommendations, prioritising the provision of safe, healthy housing for children, would substantially reduce the worst child poverty and contribute to a reduction in hospital admissions for poverty-related illnesses.