Social housing demand up 49% since 2015

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says the Government must urgently deliver a wider range of affordable housing solutions as a credible response to the rising need for emergency financial support. These solutions include building more state houses and undertaking a complete review of the now out-dated Accommodation Supplement.

The lack of concern shown by Prime Minister Bill English regarding the excess spend on emergency housing grants is disappointing evidence that our Government has neglected to respond to poverty as the most important issue of all.

While it is a good thing that homeless families are being helped financially when they need it the most, emergency grants are not a long-term solution. The, growing need for additional top-up grants is evidence that incomes are becoming overwhelmed by increased housing costs. What is being fundamentally omitted from the discussion is a recognition that families on low-incomes - from benefits or low wages - are struggling more than ever to survive.

Debt incurred through having to repay recoverable Work and Income payments will place further stress on families.

To add to this, the Prime Minister’s recent comments regarding those in need only feeds the misguided view that people are to blame for their poverty.

The PM made a sweeping statement that people requiring additional assistance  have "not had successful lives and came from a mixture of family violence, criminal and drug offending backgrounds", and require the Government's wraparound services to "straighten them out". While his assessment may be true in some cases, more generally thousands of families are simply struggling with low incomes, insecure employment and rising rents.

The reality is that 85,000 children are suffering through not having their basic needs met. Their education is suffering because they may not have been going to school as often as they need to, and they are being hospitalised for illnesses that can be easily prevented. These are the children of parents who are in need of emergency housing grants.

Highly disappointing too is that homeless figures are included in Statistics data as "domestic tourists" - a blatant lack of acknowledgement of the crisis at hand.

“We have a housing crisis,” says Frank Hogan, CPAG’s law and housing spokesperson, “and our children are suffering.”

As at December 2016 the number of households on the social housing “Priority A” waiting list was 3189. These are households that the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) defines as “having a severe and persistent need that must be addressed immediately.” The figure represents a staggering 49% increase since December 2015.

“The Prime Minister is failing to acknowledge that the root cause of homelessness and emergency need is poverty. If he is committed to continue spending as needed on emergency housing grants, the spend will likely increase exponentially. What we need urgently is a commitment to building thousands of new state homes and and for family incomes to be improved across the board.

“If we only have emergency housing without new affordable full-time homes being made available, it is like a health system having a grandiose A+E clinic without a hospital infrastructure to handle the real health issues.”

CPAG says that as a start, the $72.50 of the Working for Families In-Work Tax Credit could be made available to all low-income families, irrespective of their hours of work.

“We have the opportunity here to make some really meaningful improvement in the lives of our worst-off children, on-going basis. We should not be holding back any longer.”