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Poor housing conditions prevent families seeking help

Poor housing conditions prevent vulnerable families seeking help

Poor quality and inadequate housing can be a barrier to vulnerable families seeking the help they need, the Families Commission says.

The Commission’s comment is part of its submission to the inquiry into housing affordability by the Productivity Commission. A draft report of the Productivity Commission’s initial findings was released recently. The Families Commission has welcomed the report, saying it acknowledges how big an influence adequate and affordable housing has on child safety, family health and general wellbeing.

“As New Zealand is focusing on how to support vulnerable children and their families, the influence of the housing environment on family function and wellbeing is an important consideration,” says the Commission’s Acting Chief Executive, Dr Angela Tidmarsh.

The Productivity Commission’s draft report notes that the quality and affordability of housing is closely linked to health outcomes, particularly the wellbeing and health of children.

“Research backs this finding,” says Dr Tidmarsh. “A lack of affordable housing tends to drive struggling families into inadequate poor housing with problems such as cold, damp, insufficient heating and overcrowding.”

“Poor quality housing not only has a direct impact on family health outcomes, the stress of living in such homes can prevent families from benefiting from programmes designed to support them in other ways, such as parenting programmes. Numerous studies have concluded that if families are stressed because they have basic unmet needs, they will be focused on meeting those needs and have little energy left for involvement in other programmes. When families are vulnerable and have multiple stresses, participation in support programmes is low, and drop-out rates are high.”

The Families Commission says current government initiatives, such as subsidised home insulation, upgrading of state houses, and the Gateway Scheme for low income home buyers, all help families to access affordable housing of reasonable quality, and can also help keep private rental costs down, so families have more choices. Council-led insulation and clean heating subsidies, community housing, and cultural communal housing projects also help.

But, the Families Commission says, new avenues are needed. These could include the ability to capitalise on benefits to help with home ownership, or a rating and accreditation system for rental housing requiring that families receiving the accommodation supplement only be allowed to rent accredited houses. This would provide a considerable incentive for owners of rental properties to ensure that their houses were of a reasonable standard.

Access to affordable, good quality housing can be an important tool in the range of measures we take to help ensure children grow up safe and well in supportive families.”

ENDS

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