Why are New Zealand children living in cars?


A recent Salvation Army survey in Auckland found 30 children were living in cars. Those children, part of 32 households, are some of about 230,000 children in New Zealand – more than one in five – living in measurable poverty.

The right of every child to adequate housing was recognised in 1993 when New Zealand signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 27 of that convention states:

The Government recognizes the right of every child to an adequate standard of living for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

And the Government shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.

Three huge problems would be solved if the Government honoured the right of every child to adequate housing: substandard housing, excess mobility, and overcrowding.

Substandard housing, as well as cars, includes garages, boarding houses, caravans, camping grounds, and mouldy, damp, cold houses. Substandard housing can compromise children’s health, educational achievement, emotional well-being, and overall life chances. Damp encourages mould. If there is mould in their bedrooms, children have twice the risk of being admitted to hospital for pneumonia, and increased risk of asthma-related symptoms and rheumatic fever. Cold homes have also been linked to cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness and increased asthma attacks among children.

Moving house frequently interferes with children’s learning, and with their social development. Whether it is by choice or necessity, regularly moving house can lead to problems accessing social services like education and healthcare, and affects families’ support networks and friendships. As rents increase, families seek more affordable accommodation, moving frequently each year into temporary accommodation. A Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) survey of South Auckland schools reported accommodation as the most common reason behind high rates of school transience.

Another CPAG report showed that more than 136,000 children under 15 live in overcrowded housing. Crowded conditions means infections – like school sores, cellulitis, abscesses, infected eczema, scabies and gastroenteritis infections – can quickly spread from one person to another. Inadequate bedroom, bathroom, toilet and kitchen facilities make the spread of infection much more likely. Children living in a crowded house have at least twice the risk of being admitted to hospital for pneumonia, and overcrowding is identified as the most important risk factor for rheumatic fever and meningococcal disease.

As well as all this evidence of the harm done to children, there is compelling evidence that living in secure, warm, dry homes, and reduced exposure to household crowding, leads to improved attendance at school, fewer visits to doctors and fewer hospital admissions.

CPAG’s housing campaign urges the Government to:

  • Introduce and enforce a Warrant of Fitness for rental housing.
  • Provide subsidies to get rental houses up to a healthy standard.
  • Review and update the Accommodation Supplement.

Twenty-two years ago the Government recognised the right of every child to adequate housing. So why are children living in cars?