Access to core services falls short in Aotearoa

Access to core services refers to the essential services, facilities and infrastructure that people need in their homes to maintain a decent standard of living. As a dimension of the human right to a decent home, access to core services should be improving, but this is not happening. In the 2018 Census, around 7 percent of New Zealanders lacked access to 1 or more basic amenities and the proportion of those experiencing energy hardship continued to rise.

As one of the United Nations decency housing principles, “Housing must ensure facilities essential for health, security, and comfort, including for Aotearoa’s rural and remote communities. For example, residents should have access to safe drinking water, sanitation and washing facilities, refuse disposal and emergency services, and energy for heating, lighting, and cooking.”

Access to core services intersects with affordability of those services. While some households may say they have access to internet and electricity, their access may be limited and insufficient to meet all their needs. Household material standard of living statistics show that in the year ended June 2022, 109,500 households had a major problem with heating and/or keeping warm in winter (Stats NZ, 2023).

The data showed that 99 percent of households had access to a kitchen sink, a bath or shower and a toilet, while 98 percent had access to electricity. Access was slightly slower for refrigerators and tap water that is safe to drink with only 97 percent of households having access. 93 percent of New Zealanders had access to all seven basic amenities. A lack of access can be due to that amenity being broken, disconnected, or otherwise unavailable. The data only covers those in private dwellings and so true levels of access may be lower. The current suite of access to basic amenities data was collected for the first time in the 2018 census, and more data is needed before we can measure progress over time. 

Levels of access to basic amenities varies by household tenure (rented or owned homes), ethnicity and region. Household access to all seven basic amenities varied from 89 percent on the West coast to 95 percent in Wellington, Nelson and Otago.  

Renters and Pacific peoples experience lower levels of access than the national average with only 86 percent of Pacific Peoples and 87 percent of renters having access to all seven basic amenities. 

While timeseries data is not available for all seven basic amenities, changes in people’s access and use of electricity can be looked at in data collected in the census. Between 1971 and 2013, Stats NZ collected data on fuel used for heating. This included an option for no fuels used to heat dwelling. In 2018 the census collected information on ‘no heating used’ (Stats NZ, 2017) which is a very similar concept and allows comparison over time.  

The no heating or no fuel used series is an indicator of energy hardship in Aotearoa. Given Aotearoa's climate most households should be using at least some heating to maintain an adequate temperature of at least 18°C (World Health Organization, 2018), especially in winter.  

No heating used is a good baseline of energy hardship as it has a long time series and most dwellings in New Zealand will at some time of the year require heating to ensure indoor temperatures are maintained at a healthy level of at least 18°C (World Health Organization, 2018) (Stats NZ, 2020), but true levels of energy hardship are likely to be higher. Households may be using some heating but still not enough to maintain a healthy temperature in their homes. For more information on energy hardship see ‘defining energy hardship’ by Ministry of Business Innovation and Improvement (2022). There will be households experiencing energy hardship who are not captured in 'no heating or fuel used’ so these proportions should be treated as a lower limit proxy of overall energy hardship.

Since 1971 the proportion of households not using heating has grown from 1.3 percent in 1991 to 3.9 percent in 2018. The increase has disproportionately affected renters, in the 2018 Census 8.3 percent of renting households didn’t use any heating in their home compared to 1.8 percent of owner occupying households. A 2017 Stats NZ report ‘Investigating difference measures of energy hardship in New Zealand’ looked at the households not heating their dwelling by equivalised income and found that while the total proportion not heating increased, over time the difference for low-income households had become more marked.  

Not using heating can be due to a variety of factors, including disconnections due to non-payment, access to the power grid, and avoiding heating due to the prohibitive cost. In addition to renters being less likely to heat their homes that owners, the 2018 Census showed that renters have less access to efficient forms of heating. In 2018, 38 percent of renting households used a heat pump as a main source of heating compared to 52 percent of owner-occupier households. The internet has become an important part of how people interact with and function with society, with access often needed for basic things like paying bills and participating in work or education.  

Internet access has improved since 2006, 86 percent of New Zealanders had access to the internet in 2018 and 92 percent had access to a cell phone. The gap has narrowed since 2013 but renters are still less likely to have internet access than those who live in an owner-occupied home.

While access to landlines has reduced this doesn’t represent a decline in progressive realisation as it has been offset by a rise in access to cellphones.  As many people access the internet through a cellular device this may have also contributed to the improvement in access to the internet. 

Overall access to core services measuring progress indicators show that in Aotearoa for services like internet access, electricity and drinking water, and facilities like cooking facilities, a kitchen sink, a refrigerator, bath or shower, and a toilet, access is generally widespread, but not universal, and progress is still needed to deliver access equitably.   

Access to the internet has improved since 2013 but energy hardship has worsened. Overall, this dimension of the right to a decent home is not being met. 

 

References 

Stats NZ (2023) Household income and housing-cost statistics: Year ended June 2022. Retrieved from www.stats.govt.nz 

Stats NZ (2017). 2018 Census report on final content. Retrieved from www.stats.govt.nz. 

Ministry of Business Innovation and Improvement (2022). Defining energy hardship. Retrieved from https://www.mbie.govt.nz/ 

World Health Organization (2018). WHO Housing and health guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization.