[Content note: death of a child]
The damp and cold conditions in a state house may have contributed to a toddler’s death, a coroner has found.
Two-year-old Emma-Lita Bourne died after a brain haemorrhage while in Auckland Starship Hospital last August.
She had been brought into the hospital after showing symptoms of fever, which turned out to be a form of pneumonia.
Brandt Shortland concluded the pneumonia was a contributing factor in her death and that the Housing New Zealand house in Otara where her family lived in may have been partly to blame for her ill-health.
The home was described as very cold, with leaking ceilings, little natural light and no carpet.
The family had requested a transfer to a better house and were on the waiting list at the time of the death.
Housing New Zealand gave them a heater, but they were unable to use it due to the amount it added to their power bills, the coroner said.
We have a political discourse that loves to wave the flag of personal responsibility. If Emma-Lita Bourne had died as a result of child abuse, you wouldn’t be able to move for commentators making grand proclamations about the responsibilities that come with receiving government support, or the duties of parents regarding children in their care. We’d know exactly who to blame.
But when a small child gets sick and dies because the house she lived in was damp and cold and her parents couldn’t afford to keep the heaters on we don’t talk about the duty of housing providers – public or private – to maintain healthy, safe properties.
Yet that’s what it is. A basic duty to ensure the thing you provide is fit for purpose. A rental warrant of fitness is no different to imposing basic hygiene standards on restaurants or health and safety requirements on employers (though our government may need a refresher on those, too.)
And the other side of it that we don’t talk about is the duty of government to ensure all its people have a basic, decent standard of living. It’s nothing but heartless to put a family in a cold dark house and then tell them to fix the problem with a heater they can’t afford to run.
We need a rental warrant of fitness. And we need a proper social safety net which provides all families with enough support to keep their kids healthy and warm. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not communism by stealth: it’s called caring for each other. So no child has to die for want of a warm home.