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Every child's right to adequate housing

UNICEF NZ calling on Government to support every child's right to adequate housing

UNICEF New Zealand is joining with the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) to raise awareness about the poor housing conditions endured by thousands of children and families throughout New Zealand and calling for urgent action to ensure every child has adequate housing.

"New Zealand is in the midst of a housing crisis that is causing great harm to our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, especially children," said UNICEF NZ's National Advocacy Manager, Deborah Morris-Travers. "The direct impact of poor housing on a child's wellbeing is undeniable.

"Latest Government data shows that 12 percent of children are living in homes with a 'major' dampness and mould problem.[1] Furthermore, 40,000 children are admitted to hospital every year with poverty-related illness – mostly with respiratory and skin infections that can be prevented by adequate housing.[2]

"Of the 305,000 children living in poverty, 70 percent are in rental accommodation (20 percent in State houses and 50 percent in private rentals). For those in the private rental market, there are few protections and many families are paying high prices for homes that are failing to keep them and their children safe and healthy," said Ms. Morris-Travers.

The current housing crisis illustrates what happens when governments fail to play their part in regulating the market to ensure people's rights* are protected. We know the solutions that will help to improve housing standards and affordability but the government is failing to take the necessary action.

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UNICEF NZ calls on the Government to:

Introduce and enforce a WOF for housing

Provide subsidies to get private housing rentals up to a healthy standard

Urgently review and update the Accommodation Supplement

There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that substandard housing has a big impact on children, affecting everything from their health and educational achievement, to their emotional well-being.

Medical professionals also speak of the harsh reality they see for children due to poor housing.

"We know from studies that when there is overcrowding and houses are damp, these are nurturing environments for viral pathogens and bacteria to grow," said Dr Michael Chen-Xu, who has experience dealing with children in emergency departments.

"A common case is a young child with bronchiolitis. He sleeps with two or three other children in a room because it is cold and that is the most efficient way to heat the room.

"If it gets severe, the child will often need oxygen and will turn blue without it. It really breaks my heart. We'll support these kids and bring them back to full health, but then send them back into the same conditions which brought them here."

Ms. Morris-Travers added, "Time and time again we hear troubling stories of families all over New Zealand living in inadequate and substandard housing. A damp, mouldy and overcrowded home is no place for child to grow up.

"Along with CPAG, UNICEF NZ believes every child deserves the best start in a warm, dry and secure home. We are asking all New Zealanders to join us in calling for our Government to do more to ensure families have access to healthy and affordable homes. You can join us by:

1. Writing a letter to the editor of your community or local newspaper
3. Writing to or meeting with your local MP to discuss the issue and gain support - emails can be sent directly from here:
5. Get talking, have conversations and discuss this serious issue with your neighbours, workplaces, clubs and other groups."

[1] Bryan Perry for the Ministry of Social development, The material wellbeing of New Zealand households, Wellington, August 2015, pg 66


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