How responsible is the Government for ‘safe’ houses?

Cold damp houses and deaths of people, particularly infants, have caused a lot of consternation. Some go as far as directly blaming the Government for deaths like this.

How responsible is the Government? They can’t be blamed for every death from any cause.

A guest post at The Standard looks at The Responsibilities of Government.

The death of Emma-Lita Bourne is not just a personal tragedy for the family: it is an event that should make New Zealand angry with the powerful people in our society who control the purse strings. They are responsible for condemning thousands of children to life-threatening conditions. And they are doing it in our name.

The reliable public health evidence is clear: poor housing conditions cause premature mortality. Our policy makers know that; those who decide on where public money should be spent know that; and yet too many of us simply shrug, express our heartfelt sympathies, and leave it at that. Well, we should be angry and we should be insistent on speedy change.

Fair enough to debate how much more should be done and how much more should be spent on safer housing. Alongside safer roads, safer workplaces, better medical and hospital care etc etc.

Politicians of the last few decades have presided over a significant increase in the wealth of the nation. As a result we have a very comfortable middle class. But a nation that harps on about its vanguard role in socially progressive developments in legal frameworks and its egalitarian ethos has become very unbalanced in its distribution of this considerable wealth. Those at the poorer ends of society have in fact gone backwards. Result: children die in mouldy and uncarpeted houses owned by us.

Some of this is questionable. For example carpeted houses can be less safe for some people than un-carpeted houses as carpets can harbour allergenic material.

I haven’t seen anyone analyse the state of housing now compared to say fifty years ago, when insulation was rare. Housing must surely be better generally for most people than it was a hundred years ago.

But we need to look at things as they stand now, and how we can do better.

It is time to recall one of the socially progressive developments where we were leaders rather than followers. New Zealand played a major role in ensuring coverage of economic and social rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This totemic document of the United Nations, designed as the blue-print for the rebuilding of societies destroyed by eugenic ideas that some people were of lesser worth, sets out in Article 25 that all people have the right to an adequate standard of living. It’s a right with a purpose: to allow people to provide for the health and well-being of themselves and their family.

It’s all very well saying “an adequate standard of living” is a right but perfect living conditions for everyone cannot be provided, even if it could be defined.

What about the right to let people choose their own standard of living? People can’t be forced to comply with certain living standards.

In fact, it isn’t just a matter of economic rights. It is actually a matter of the right to life.

That’s idealistic. We have certain rights to life but can’t have guarantees, except for the guarantee that we will all end up dying.

The state obligation is to take steps whenever it is aware that death is risked that can be avoided.

That is totally unrealistic. Should we ban anything that risks death? Ban mountaineering? Ban swimming and boating? Ban all sports and recreation? Ban all unsafe workplaces? Sitting in an office all day is supposed to have health risks.

It’s totally unrealistic to expect we can have 100% safe roads.

It’s also unrealistic to expect we can have 100% safe houses.

Even basics like coldness and dampness on houses have significant problems. My house is cold if i don’t heat it enough. It is damp and it gets mouldy if I don’t ventilate it enough.

So our officials cannot just stand by. Safeguarding the many children like Emma-Lita Bourne is not just in the nice to have basket: it’s in the need to have basket. Any avoidable and entirely preventable death is an absolute tragedy. But when it reveals a situation which we have promised will not be allowed, we should damn well be angry about it. So how should we respond? Well how about we insist on being true to our obligations and, given our proud record of being at the forefront of social progress, true to our values.

Kris Gledhill

Our officials haven’t been just standing by. They generally do as much as they can with as much budget as they can get.

Cold and damp houses haven’t just been created in the last few years. Improvements have been happening – insulation has increased significantly over the past decade.

It’s a very complex issue that can’t be quickly and simply solved. For example you can’t force people to heat and ventilate their homes.

We should be looking at what can be done to improve housing safety more. In a reasonable way.

One of the worst ways to encourage the Government and officials to address it better is to blame and shame them.

But that’s what’s happening. The post by Kris Gledhill means well, with some naivety, but some of the follow up comments are negative, unnecessary and counter-productive.

One Anonymous Bloke:

Arrest those responsible and extradite them to Holland to stand trial at The Hague. Send a message to the centre-right that for human rights abusers, there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

There is no alternative: until they face personal consequences they will keep on killing children.


Their plan this time appears to be to dump social housing on to charities with insufficient resources, and trust that they will leak into the market that way.

Thus causing the mass exodus of families into their cars and trailer parks to die because of the irresponsibility of ministers with no moral compass.

I don’t think that we need to send Nick Smith to the Hague. I’m pretty sure we could deal with him here. I don’t care if we have to pass laws to deal with such people ignoring their direct responsibilities retroactively

Prentice is suggesting retroactive responsibility – does that go back as far as the Clark Government? The Bolger Government?

The Government cannot be held responsible for every death, and it isn’t fair to blame the Government for individual deaths, as sad as those deaths are.

We have a problem – not a new problem but one with new political focus – and we need to look at how we can deal with it better.

But if we prosecute and imprison all MPs whenever anyone dies it’s hard to see how we will make any progress.

Abusing and blaming is one of the most ineffective ways of getting politicians to listen and to act.

The Government has a responsibility to do as much as it can, but that involves juggling priorities. Those who dump on them don’t have to worry about the realities and real difficulties on getting a reasonable balance.

But no matter what the Government does they cannot ensure everyone heats their house adequately, or ventilates their house adequately, or keeps their carpets and beds relatively free of allergens, or budgets effectively, or the many other things that can contribute to a family’s well-being.

Leave a comment


  1. Socialist planners would have the government responsible for every facet of your life. The less government is involved in anything, the better.

    • David

       /  14th June 2015

      This is the thing I find so odd. bureaucracy’s are largely indifferent to individual problems, yet the people claiming this is a problem ’caused’ by government seem to believe the solution is more government!

  2. kiwi_guy

     /  14th June 2015

    Why are people having kids they can’t afford to house or feed? Often multiple kids.

    I have worked as minimum wage labour hire occasionally for extra cash and rubbed shoulders with these underclass types. One bragged about having 4 kids to three women over the last decade or so – he drove to work in his latest girlfriend’s car. You can guess how far he is going to go in life.

    You can bet they are all getting plenty of tax payer funding, the kids are going to grow up to be drop kicks like the parents.

    The elephant in the room no one wants to mention is IQ. Runner ups are mental health and character.

    If the Marxists are demanding that landlords be required to obtain a WoF, then surely it would be smarter to apply that approach at the top of the cliff instead and require people to obtain a WoF for breeding – problem solved.

    • kittycatkin

       /  15th June 2015

      It does seem insane in a way that I have to have a license for my dog and various other things, but that none is needed to breed children. But then, would one want a society where it was ? Probably not. I’d hate to have China’s compulsory abortions.

  3. David

     /  14th June 2015

    Having spent a decade living in Invercargill back in the day it’s kinda hard to imagine that a house in sub tropical Auckland could be a danger. Surely this guy should not have 6 children if he can’t afford to heat his heavily subsidised house.

    • From Dunedin claims of cold house problems in Auckland seem a bit odd too.

    • kiwi_guy

       /  14th June 2015

      Auckland is NOT subtropical, not by a long way, the technical term is warm temperate.

      People forget that the HUMIDITY level can make a big difference to how cold or hot it feels. I’ve experienced beautiful sunny still days with extremely low humidity ( so low in fact lots of homes had humdifiers to put water into the air ) at 5 Celsius overseas, while a grey blustery wet day at 16 Celsius in Auckland is miserable.

      • At least when it is humid you don’t get belted by static electricity every time you step out of your car and forget to hold the door handle as you do it. Took ages to get used to that in Canada.

    • kittycatkin

       /  14th June 2015

      Is that the very fat man who died recently ? Surely his obesity was a contributing factor. If his house was a state house, it would be no more than 25% of his income.Which leaves 75% of his income. How much does a box of condoms cost at the supermarket ? It’s grossly irresponsible to keep having child after child. I have heard more than one person say that no matter what the cost of contraception is, it’s a lot less than another child would cost ! If they have religious objections to contraception, fair enough-but don’t whinge that you can’t afford to keep them. There’s a old joke about aspirin being the best contraceptive of all-just keep one between your knees the whole time.

      Seriously, places like the Sallies sell very cheap, very good clothes-I often drop off contributions, and although I thought that my opshopping days were long gone, I have on occasion brought home a really good garment for myself. There’s no shame in 2nd hand clothes; surely nobody would refuse to wear a garment given by a friend. If I will wear an opshop garment (and I see really well-dressed people in opshops) why can’t the people who claim poverty save some money by doing so ?

      With the fat man, I’d have thought that his fatness was a ticking time bomb, to use a cliche.Maybe he was so well insulated that he didn’t notice that other people were cold.

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  14th June 2015

    In the next breath these morons will be complaining about global warming. Having grown up in a completely uninsulated old Chch villa I have zero sympathy.

    • In the sixties I lived in an old scrim walled cottage in Central Otago. It was common for the water to freeze up in the winter. We had a coal range for cooking and heating, and no fridge.

      Then my parents had a new house built (same property). It was much better but was uninsulated, as was normal in those days. And my bedroom windows was always left open, right through the winter, so cats could get in and out. It’s just how we lived.

      • kiwi_guy

         /  14th June 2015

        How you lived, how you got sick more frequently than you otherwise would, how average lifespans were probably more negatively affected.

        • No one in the family was particularly unusually from environmental causes – my father lived on there (I insulated the ceiling form him, a very low ceiling, a bugger of a job) until he died at 78 from fag fucked lungs.

          • kiwi_guy

             /  14th June 2015

            The conditions you describe are scientifically proven to be hazardous to your health. Maybe you look back on it with nostalgia but I definitely would not want to raise kids in those conditions.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  14th June 2015

              Stupidity is far more hazardous to health. Darwin’s Law applies.

          • DaveG

             /  15th June 2015

            Pete. We arranged and installed insulation plus put 2 heat pumps into a home in Dunedin for a lady in her 80’s, she had lived there since she was married before she was 20, raised an entire family in it. The wind whistled in through the floorboards and Not one bit of insulation was found. She told us she grew up tough in a old place so much worse, that they had a dirt floor, and an outside bathroom so this place was so good, and you learn to live in the colder climates, it keeps you healthy she said. I went back on two following visits to check on her, really nice lady, and to adjust the thermostats DOWN, she was finding the place far too hot.

    • The may want to use this as an excuse to introduce full socialism quickly before things warm up.

      • kittycatkin

         /  14th June 2015

        The article by Peter Calder in the Herald was a real tear-jerker, or meant to be. But he didn’t say that badly fitting doors and windows can be helped by sticking that draught-stopping foam on them. It’s cheap and not my favourite decoration, and it’s a real pain to put on, but we prefer it to draughts. I discovered recently that taking the old lot off is much, much easier with a putty knife (groans at memory of doing this before I made this obvious discovery) Draught-stoppers for the bottom of the door are very easy to make from rolled up newspaper inside a cloth cover.

        It does seem as if some people don’t want to do much to help themselves. If you have mould-clean it off with bleach if you don’t want to buy anything ready-made. They have to use something to clean the house with, surely. I used watered down bleach on the outside of the house when I ran out of the bought stuff and couldn’t be bothered going to town for more, and it worked wonderfully, Do these people LIKE living like that ? Don’t they clean their houses ? Cockroaches can appear anywhere, but they and mice are less likely to bother if there’s nothing to feed on.

        Oh, I forgot that these are there because of the government’s meanness.

        I have read of people using bubblewrap as double glazing, but this seems a bit extreme-how depressing to be unable to look out all winter. Maybe if one lived in a place with Arctic weather :-/

  5. DaveG

     /  15th June 2015

    This is a subject very dear ot my heart, and something I have a great deal of knowledge and experiance. Firstly, whilst NZ homes are not constructed for the conditions, no one need die from cold or suffer an unhealthy home. What the socialists forget, is these houses they refer to as unhealthy and damp and cold, have had people and fmailies living in them for 30 to 60 years quite successfully! There are two main issues.

    1) A lot of Tenants DO NOT know hos to live in htem, open and close windows, close curtains, use an old blanket on th ewindows, and the ones with health issues are NOT cleaning sufficiently, especially wiping away condensation, and lceaning away mould.

    2) They lack the resources to HEAT and de-humdify the homes, despite this only costing around $120 a month if managed carefully. (current power prices, oil heaters and a de-humidifier) heating drying two rooms only.

    Now, what I am dissapointed in, is the Nats have not told the story, just how much the Nats have spent insulating State houses since they have been in the big office, its about three times what labour spent in their entire previous term! The Green Princess is well aware of this too.

    Run an EDUCATION program, Living in a cooler climate (not racist, look at the cultures having the issues) for every PI state house tenant. Secondly, INSPECT their homes coming up to winter, then early winter. This should be the job of a local community advisor, or do the socialists expect the govenment to do everything for thes people who are unable to live for themselves.

    Things like……
    Open curtains as soon as the sun comes up (11.00 am for you Pete??) 🙂
    Wipe ALL condensation off Walls and Windows as soon as possible in the mornings,
    Open Windows to ventillate when hte sun is up.
    Close windows an hour prior to sun down
    Close curtains at sundown, put on another jumper, move into ONE room
    DON’T use any non flued solid fuel or Gas Appliances.
    OPEN a window in ht ebathroom when running water, or use a flued fan.
    Run a 1.0 KW oil fired heater in each of two rooms from sun down, until 4.00 am
    Run a 400 to 500 W de-humidifier in the third room, and alternate in other rooms on a twice weekly cycle.
    Air bedding regularly, place blankets etc in the sun, an electric blanket on for only an hour uses little power BUT dries out a bed well, and makes getting to sleep easy.
    Cook and RETAIN all cooking liquids from veges, they make amazing soup before bed time, just kept warm in a thermos.
    GET community support, all looking out for each other, which reminds me – WHERE was these peoples church in each of these peoples lives, i have been led t obelieve they support their own ???

    I could go on…

    Now, about affording power, in all cases these families recieved MASSIVE benefits, so lets get full disclosure, how much they recieved, how much was sent home to relatives, Tithing, on Loans / debt, or food, on Alcohol, on gambling, and the weekly budget. I can guarantee there is a whole lot more going on, and thanks to a complicit MSM, they have bent the facts..

    PS: A visit to the sallies can get an extra set of curtains to put over existing, this worsk well, and some old carpet to put over exiting flooring, it all helps.

    I suffer th eopposite here, its constantly very high thirties over here, high humidity, and the air

  6. mike hopkirk

     /  16th June 2015

    The article glides over the fact that the two deaths were in STATE houses so yes govt ( via housing corp) is 100% responsible for the cold+mold state of those houses.

    Yeah turn the electric heater on ( power prices have only doubled over the last 10 years – 7% increase/quarter on average) – Wages ( low skill jobs) less so – could be alleviated by state house residents ‘manning up’ and getting jobs as (SOE) corporation CEOS – their increases are not so limited…
    DaveG gives a whole range of suggestions about how tenants could readjust their efforts to survive to alleviate the conditions caused by ‘not fit for purpose’ housing – I look forward to the same ‘ very dear to my heart’ list for making the issues that he sees as making this now ‘necessary’ effort unnecessary which (it seems you’ve all looked away from) is the whole point of the exercise……..

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  16th June 2015

      Six children and living in a State house. And it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to support them in the state to which they would like to become accustomed?

      What could possibly be the fallacy in that policy?

  1. More on cold, damp housing | Drop Bear Exterminator

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