The Government’s Child Wellbeing Report shows 11% of Maori and 17% of Pasifika children live in households with major problems, including dampness or mould. With more than 30,000 children admitted into hospital every year with preventable illnesses from unhealthy housing, Save the Children’s Advocacy and Research Director Jacqui Southey is calling for urgent action on New Zealand’s housing crisis.
It was once dubbed the ‘Kiwi dream’ – owning a home, a place where your family would thrive, growing up in a community where you felt safe, supported. But for more than 20,000 families living in Aotearoa who are currently on the waiting list for housing support, that dream is far from realised.
Many of our most vulnerable are living in cars, caravans, sheds, short-term emergency accommodation, or overcrowded homes. For the children living in these situations, the harmful impacts are immediate and in the worst cases will last well into their future.
New Zealand has a housing crisis. Housing has become a leading issue for families desperately seeking an affordable, healthy, and secure place to call home. In a Save the Children survey of 1395 supporters last year, 61% of those surveyed put housing as the leading issue of concern for children in New Zealand. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child has the right to a decent standard of living and an affordable and healthy home is critical in achieving this.
Through our Five to Thrive campaign Save the Children and our partners ask that the Government prioritise affordable and healthy housing for families whether renting or living in their own home. This includes urgent action on making rents more affordable, alongside continued investment in new public housing and refurbishing current stocks to a healthy standard. We also need to continue to look for affordable pathways to ownership for low- and middle-income families.
More families than ever before are renting, and market rental prices are unaffordable and pushing families into poverty. Child poverty rates increase by 38% after housing costs are accounted for. Many of those homes aren’t up to standard, with the Government’s Child Wellbeing Report revealing seven per cent of Kiwi kids live in households with major problems, including dampness or mould, with 11% of Māori tamariki and 17 per cent of Pasifika children, living in those kinds of homes. It is even worse for children living in State home where 34% have serious damp and mould problems.
Children living in these conditions are more likely to develop serious respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchiolitis, bronchiectasis, and rheumatic fever. If all houses were free of damp and mould, we could prevent 20% of hospital admissions for children under two years of age with Acute Respiratory Illnesses.
Last year has seen a worrying 25% increase in rates of rheumatic fever, with nine children hospitalised in Wellington alone. Housing conditions, overcrowding along damp and mould are known as major contributing factors in causing rheumatic fever.
Lack of investment in public housing by governments over the last 30 years has exacerbated our current housing emergency. The $500 million investment announced by the Government last year was a welcome and urgently needed commitment, as is the further investment of $380 million to build more and repair Maori housing. Yet we need to see urgent progress enacted to enable our families to live in healthy and affordable homes, especially those stuck in motels or other unsafe living conditions.
In a plentiful country like New Zealand, this situation is not acceptable and must no longer be tolerated by us – the people of Aotearoa if we are to have prosperous well-functioning society where all children do well.