Thursday, June 4, 2015

Mike Butler: Cold housing and the poverty pimps

A rental property warrant of fitness will not stop another child dying of cold, as Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills and the Green Party would have you believe. Why? The answer was right there in the One News story titled “Otara state houses 'damp, full of cockroaches' but Govt defends HNZ after death”, which was the death of Emma-Lita Bourne after a pneumonia-like illness.

One minute in, reporter Max Bania said that the house had a heater provided by Housing New Zealand but the family seldom used it because they couldn’t afford the power bill.

Coroner Brandt Shortland wrote "It is entirely possible the condition of the house had contributed to the pneumonia-like illness that Emma-Lita was suffering at the time of her death."

But the Children’s Commissioner shifted the link between Emma-Lita’s housing and her death from the coroner’s “possible” to a definite by saying: “If Emma-Lita lived in a warm dry house it’s very unlikely she would have got pneumonia. She wouldn’t have died.”

Housing providers are blamed for cold houses but the real villains are the electricity generators, mostly owned by the government, and the soaring price of electricity that has doubled over 10 years.

Any insulated house with a warrant of fitness would remain cold if people don’t turn the heater on.

The clip also showed a mouldy wall and ceiling. The reporter did not say that the mouldy wall and ceiling belonged to the house Emma-Lita and her family lived in. The reporter did not say that mould can be cleaned away.

He did not ask whether a portable gas heater had been used in the house, which is the second question to ask after the first question, whether the occupants ventilate the house and wipe away damp.

A bottled gas heater produces around 200mls of water vapour for each kilowatt of output, each hour it is operating, as well as well as emitting dangerous gases and particulates, causing feelings of fatigue, and worsening heart and respiratory problems, especially in asthma sufferers.

Unfortunately, the hype about housing killing people has shifted the focus away from the actual problems of overcrowding, use of portable gas heaters, failure to ventilate, and poor hygiene.

It's winter and the poverty pimps are back with their cold-housing hype.


Brian said...

Excellent analysis Mike
There is one other salient point used by the media informing us that this family was unable to fund the electric heater supplied due to a lack of money. As this family is housed in a state house at a concessional rental compared with being in a private rental how are they then, in the situation where they have no money to fund electricity? Was this family on Welfare of any type, and if so, why was it not covering household costs? .
This another case of our Media exploiting an emotive situation with half a story (never let the truth get in the way of good copy); of the media not revealing all the details leading up to this sad death of a child. This situation was also commented upon radio by an organisation calling for vouchers to be issued in these sort of cases, a position which all political parties have distanced themselves from on the bases of it being demeaning for the recipients.
This re-enforces a strong reason that non transferable mandatory vouchers for essentials be substituted for money, especially for families who are unable to budget wisely for household and living expenses.

OlderChas said...

It is my understanding that the child died of a brain hemorrhage resulting in a clot. Yes she had pneumonia when she died - but it was NOT the cause of death.

Peter said...

The voucher system may be 'demeaning'; but it is an answer. If families fear for their safety; they will swallow their pride and accept a voucher for food and heating. We also hear that many Polynesians are closely allied with their churches. Why aren't they seeking help from them - rather than contributing to them?
The blaming of the government is nonsense. If Island people cannot tolerate the cold they are welcome to return to their warm Pacific Island. If they want to stay in New Zealand they have to learn to accept responsibility for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I agree entirely with all you have said, but what amazes me about all of this is how does the Maori lady who was on television a couple of months back refusing to move from her 3 bedroomed state house into a smaller state flat just because she had been living there for decades and it's her so called right to stay feel about this family living in the accommodation they were living in or even those who weren't so lucky.
Also with regards to electricity cost why do the line companies charge a line cost on a daily rate whether you use the power or not should that cost not be set as part of a unit cost ? Last month our bill was $99 of that $69 was the line charge and the power was not used for 18 days of the month - no one was in residence so that was $42 for nothing.Am I subsidizing the big users? You cannot tell me they can't sort this they have smart meters - programme them!

Unknown said...

Yep Mike you hit it on the head. Increased costs are the problem while payment for work stays the same or is reduced. It has to result in the return of organised labour. When the capitalists are let loose with no restraint and allowed to garner excessive profits for their merchandise , exploitation is their game and has been through history. I know some of the problem can be people expecting too much. I was raised after the war in state housing as my father worked in the post office. He fed and housed a wife and 3 kids on one income and I probably had the best childhood anyone could have. We did not have an advertising industry pitching stuff to us 24/7 and we made a lot of our toys and play things ourselves out of what we had around.We created our own fun and plenty of it from our own ingenuity. Try to raise a family on one income now. It is tough out there for working families. Of course an ignorant electorate adds to the problem.

Dave said...

A good reporter would also investigate the overall income or more likely benefits that this household receives, also the budgeting of that income, is any money being spent on alcohol, smoking, drugs, takeaway food etc. If all those questions came back with satisfactory answers then yes I would agree we as a nation have a problem with child poverty instead of having a problem of child neglect.

Dr Colin Aldridge said...

Thanks for your thoughtful analysis. The TV One report was, to my mind, yet another example of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Regarding electricity cost, I am still waiting for it to sink into the public consciousness that there is a connection between the inability of the industry to overcome "environmental" hurdles to the development of new capacity, and the cost of electricity. Instances of abandoned hydro-electric schemes that immediately come to mind are the Lower Waitaki R, the Clutha R at Beaumont and at Luggate, the Nevis R (near Cromwell), and the Mokihinui R (near Westport). And more.... I contend that if at least some of these sustainable schemes had come to fruitiion, the electricity supply-demand balance would be very different and hence the cost of electricity to consumers much easier to bear.

This issue is another example of any mention of the environment trumping reason. As a step towards countering this, it would be great to see Bjorn Lomborg's "Skeptical Enviornmentalist" as required reading for all those preparing submissions under the Resource Management Act!