CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group) says that new research from the University of Otagoprovides a solid foundation for why the Government must not delay instating a comprehensive Warrant of Fitness for tenanted homes in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and boosting family incomes.
The recent study led by Dr Tristram Ingram found that almost 20 percent of hospital admissions for acute respiratory infections in children under the age of two years could have been prevented through having healthier housing conditions.
The researchers studied 188 children who were admitted to hospital with acute respiratory infections and 454 control patients – those who saw their GP either with a respiratory illness which did not require hospitalisation or for a routine immunisation. They found that children who became ill were significantly more likely to be in poor quality, rented homes, experiencing poverty and living in crowded situations. Dampness and mould were common housing factors.
Frank Hogan, Housing and Children’s Rights Spokesperson for CPAG says that it is past time for the Government to fix an issue that is tragically impacting on the lives of so many young children.
“Recent developments in Residential Tenancy Legislation and a new Healthy Homes Guarantee Act have set minimum requirements for insulation, smoke alarms, draft-stopping and temperature control in main living areas, but it does not go far enough to prevent children from getting sick,” says Hogan.
“Many houses in Aotearoa will be exempt from the insulation standards, and will not be protected from dampness adequately. A chronic problem with overcrowding means that moisture builds up in houses that are already hard to heat and keep dry, and infection can spread rapidly and reoccur. The new laws are helpful, but they don’t provide the answer entirely.
“Not only should housing be required to meet minimum standards, tested to be compliant for health and safety – including mould-free – but many more affordable housing options need to be provided to reduce the need for families to live together in crowded situations,” says Hogan.
“We have over 11,000 households waiting for a state home, and the list is growing faster than houses are being built.
Incomes are a huge factor for children who are affected by housing-related illnesses.
Families, particularly those whose primary income is from a welfare benefit, are finding it harder and harder to afford their basic needs, including housing.
“Young children and babies are particularly vulnerable to acute respiratory conditions when they are living in conditions that are not fit for purpose. They are more at risk of developing secondary infections, or recurrent illness that lead to developing bronchiectasis, a disease that leads to lifelong scarring on the lungs and can be fatal,” says Dr Nikki Turner, CPAG Health Spokesperson.
“Bronchiectasis is rarely seen in high-income countries, and the high rates in New Zealand children is heart-rending and unacceptable.”
“Tragedies like the death of little Emma-Lita Bourne from pneumonia due to her very cold damp house can be prevented through adequate Government intervention.”
CPAG says a comprehensive housing Warrant of Fitness, and changes to the Residential Tenancies Act to provide tenants with greater security and protection are needed urgently.
Moreover, family incomes must be boosted so that children are able to have all their needs met. It is becoming impossible for families to survive without house-sharing, and incomes have fallen too far behind real costs.
Families on benefits miss out on a critical $72.50 per week because they don’t meet unfair and discriminatory criteria.
“We want to see many of the recent recommendations by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group expedited into policy urgently, so that we can see a vast improvement in children’s health and life outcomes,” says Hogan.