Politicians say the number of children dying from diseases linked to cold, damp, overcrowded housing is shocking and "deeply saddening".

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said the 20 deaths and 30,000 hospitalisations each year caused by housing-related illnesses - reported by the Herald this morning - should not be tolerated.

If elected the party would address unhealthy homes in its first 100 days, she said.

"This is what this election should be about. This is what we should be debating - do we have a tolerance for kids dying because our houses are in such a bad state? Do we tolerate this?" Ardern said.


"The idea a kid dies because they're cold is just appalling in a place like New Zealand. I found it deeply saddening."

The Herald reported deaths linked to cold, damp or crowded homes are higher than the number of kids killed in car accidents or drownings.

Respiratory conditions in particular - like bronchiolitis and asthma - were causing more hospitalisations each year, and the most severe, such as a "third world" disease named bronchiectasis, were irreparably damaging babies' lungs.

Government interventions have not met demand, doctors said. Data showed many families referred for new insulation or new homes were not receiving the interventions. Others had no carpet, curtains, or bedding.

Ardern said Labour's Healthy Housing Bill would seek to address those issues, mandating high insulation standards and requiring rentals to be warm, dry and healthy.

The party would give universal $2000 insulation grants, and help beneficiary families with a $700 Winter Energy Payment, to help with heating costs in winters.

Labour would also build state houses with its KiwiBuild plan and close tax loopholes used by speculators.

Arden said all Labour wanted was for people to have decent standard of living.


"We do everything we can to improve road safety, and yet we seem to be tolerating homes that are making kids sick and are causing our kids to die. There should be no tolerance for that.

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The Green Party's social housing spokeswoman Marama Davidson said the deaths linked to unhealthy homes were an "absolute farce and an absolute scandal".

"I didn't know there were so many. Part of this is understanding that it's an attack on low income families. I refuse to let any government get away with that," she said.

Davidson said the Green Party would bring in a comprehensive Warrant of Fitness for houses to make sure every property - not just rentals - were warm, dry and safe.

"We want people to be able to heat their house sufficiently. We know lots of people can't afford adequate heating at the moment."

She said the Greens would also boost the insulation programme run by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), which the Government has scaled back in recent years.

"We would want to ensure that homes are universally insulated. At the moment it's largely left up to social service providers, charities and landlords to fund it. And the entry criteria is too strict," she said.

The party would also work to address the "power imbalance" between tenants and landlords, possibly with an advocacy service.

"The imbalance is linked to the lack of affordable healthy housing," Davidson said. "Most families don't feel like they can ask for their homes to be improved because they don't want to risk being kicked out."

The Greens have also promised to build more state housing, and not sell any more state land destined for homes.

For more on each party's policies, click here.

Yesterday, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government had already invested in a range of programmes aimed at housing quality, security and safety, including upgrades to state houses, and the incoming Residential Tenancies Act, which will mandate a level of insulation by 2019.

The Warm Up New Zealand insulation programmes, which gives landlords of low-income tenants a grant of 50 per cent of the cost of insulation, were set to continue, he said.

The Government had also allocated the Maori Housing Strategy $12.6 million last year.

As part of its new target of reducing avoidable child hospitalisations by 25 per cent in five years, the Government would continue its Healthy Housing Interventions, which see nurses assess homes and then work with charities and social services to make changes, he said.

It would also "work in partnership" with other agencies to reduce housing-related health conditions. He did not describe what that would entail.

The "Better Public Service" target is aimed at helping children under 12 with dental, skin, respiratory and head injury conditions.