NZNO's Blog

Don’t block good health

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By NZNO President, Grant Brookes.

Housing protest Grant

NZNO President Grant Brookes at ‘The Block’ housing protest in Auckland.

This might be a strange way to begin a nursing blog, but Season Five of The Block NZ is drawing to a close.

The top-rating programme has gripped viewers for the last two months. As eight young New Zealanders in their twenties and thirties competed for a chance at home ownership, we shared their yearning.

But this season has also attracted controversy, screening at a time of heightened awareness about the growing housing crisis.

In hindsight, it’s odd that it took five seasons. The appeal of the programme has been so strong all along because the goal of home ownership – or even a secure, affordable tenancy – is increasingly unattainable.

Last weekend I joined a protest at The Block NZ Open Home in the upmarket suburb of Meadowbank. I went along to support a group from NZNO.

It might sound shocking, but rising house prices mean that NZNO members are now starting to join the ranks of the “working poor” – people who don’t have enough left over, after accommodation costs, to pay the bills and feed the kids.

Hamish Hutchinson 13920350_10153658016692601_4644016310309070721_o (2)

NZNO delegate and RN Hamish Hutchinson at ‘The Block’ housing protest.

If the average Staff Nurse, working full time was somehow able to save a 20% deposit, then to buy an average-priced house in Meadowbank they’d need to spend about 90% of their income on mortgage repayments. So buying one of The Block NZ houses is clearly not an option.

But sadly, things are heading the same way across other parts of the country. A mortgage on an average-priced house anywhere in New Zealand would consume over half of a Staff Nurse’s income. And as house prices rise, so of course do rents.

But I also went along to the protest because adequate housing is essential for health.

Skyrocketing house prices (and rents to match) have recently put the issue of homelessness into the spotlight. But they also cause the less visible problem of household overcrowding.

Researchers at He Kainga Oranga, the Health and Housing Research Programme at Wellington’s Medical School, have been looking at the health impact.

In one study, they found that one in 10 hospital admissions to treat infectious diseases are the direct result of household crowding. For Māori and Pacific peoples, the figure jumps to one in five.

The researchers examined nine major categories of infectious disease — gastroenteritis, hepatitis A, Helicobacter pylori infection, pneumonia and lower respiratory infections, upper respiratory infections, Haemophilus influenzae disease, bronchiolitis, meningococcal disease and tuberculosis. They estimated that household crowding causes more than 1,300 hospital admissions a year, and even some deaths.

“Most of the diseases in the study have especially high rates in children”, said lead investigator Professor Michael Baker. “Children are more susceptible to meningococcal disease, gastroenteritis, pneumonia and most other infectious diseases, and our analysis shows that their risk is strongly associated with exposure to household crowding”.

The Block NZ is about houses as money-making opportunities, rather than homes for people to live in. Even as it appeals to us, it glamorises the competitive race which is shutting more and more people out of a warm, dry and affordable home.

But the show is not responsible for the housing crisis, or the toll it is taking on health. That responsibility lies with the Government.

The protest at their Open Home was a chance to again send the message that everyone – whether they can afford a $1m house or not – needs somewhere dry and safe to live.

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