Federal MP says housing should be a human right

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on March 16, 2021
Federal MP says housing should be a human right

One Federal MP has called on the government to legislate housing as a human right to help alleviate housing inequality and homelessness.

Labor member for Macnamara Josh Burns argued for housing as a human right in a report authored in a Labor-aligned think-tank, the McKell Institute. 

Following the pandemic, Mr Burns said more needs to be done to help the estimated 1.3 million Australians struggling to either:

  • Rent a home or afford their rent
  • Afford their mortgage repayments 
  • Find social housing accommodation
  • Or facing homelessness 

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While some argue a codified right to housing is merely a symbolic gesture, the report says it would force the government to “accept a legal responsibility to address homelessness."

“A legally enforceable human right to housing would help to address the immediate need for crisis accommodation,” the report said. 

Mr Burns meanwhile said too many Australians don't have a place to call home. 

"The truth is that before coronavirus, Australia had a serious shortage in housing – especially affordable and social housing," he said. 

"We know that a house is bigger than its four walls – it gives each Australian a stake in the collective success of our economy.

"This pandemic has exacerbated the struggles of housing affordability for too many Australians. For the Australians who are locked out of home ownership we need to do more."

Mr Burns said that the right to housing "is not radical" as other countries already have such a right, like France and Scotland. 

"The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Australia is a signatory, recognises the right to adequate housing," he said. 

"And through the accompanying shift in policy perspective, Government could begin the long journey down the path of dismantling the structural inequities which have created this mess.

"In doing so, we would see both the community-wide benefit of helping individuals, and the long-term benefit of a healthier and fairer housing market."

This report offers a four step plan to reduce homelessness and inequality in housing:

  • An investment drive in social housing (see below)
  • Increased funding for crisis accommodation, and policies that prevent funding cuts 
  • The legislation of housing as a human right 
  • And a nationally-coordinated plan to limit grounds for eviction and improve tenants’ livability standards

More social housing needed? 

In the report is a call for more social housing spending, which is backed by many economists as not only economically-effective, but as a key way to help housing affordability

A $7 billion investment in social housing could reportedly boost the economy by $18.2 billion over two years, but as The New Daily reports, Housing Minister Michael Sukkar said social housing programs are the domain of the states and territories. 

For example, Victoria ($5.3 billion) and NSW ($813 million) have committed to social housing infrastructure in their state budgets. 

However, the Morrison Government has committed the following to housing inequality in 2020-21:

  • Around $129 million in dedicated homelessness funding  and around $5.5 billion to 1.7 million individuals to help them pay for rent (rent assistance)
  • Increased the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) low cost finance cap from $2 billion to $3 billion to support construction of new affordable houses.

Over 850,000 Australians live in social or public housing (Institute of Health and Welfare).

Housing inequality by the numbers 

Inequality is expanding in the housing market, following huge surges in prices and increased demand and applications for home loans and first home buyer approvals

Rental stress, mortgage stress, evictions, homelessness and a lack of social housing all contribute to the haves and have-nots of housing. 

Based on a wide variety on data sources:

The Australian Bureau of Statistics counts nearly 117,000 Australians in some form of homelessness, although other sources say the rate is more than double that. 

Among OECD countries, Australia has the third-highest homeless population as a proportion of the population (0.48%), behind New Zealand in first (0.94%).

However, this is partially explained by the fact that both Australia and New Zealand have pretty broad definitions of homelessness which include people in temporary accommodation or those sharing accommodation with a household.

By comparison, Japan - which boasts the smallest share of homeless people - specifically defines homeless people as those sleeping rough in a park, riverbed, road or station.   

More funding for homeless services needed? 

From July this year, homelessness programs across Australia are set to lose approximately $57 billion in funding when the Equal Remuneration Order (ERO) supplementation for homelessness services ends. 

Mission Australia, the St Vincent de Paul Society, Wesley Mission and the Salvation Army said this funding must not be taken away from vital services during a time of great need and demand. 

“If the Government cuts millions of dollars from homelessness services, there will be more than 500 fewer frontline workers helping people to find housing and other services they need," Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said. 

“Homelessness is likely to increase when JobKeeper ends and the JobSeeker payment is reduced at the end of this month. This will lead to a rise in demand for these vital homelessness services. 

"Now is not the time to try to save $57 million at the expense of people facing homelessness and the programs that support them.

"The amount needed to keep these vital homelessness services afloat is around 10% of what was immediately pledged to Aged Care this month.”


Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash   

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Dominic Beattie is the Editor of Savings.com.au. He has been publishing articles on finance, business and economics since 2015, having previously worked at financial research firm and comparison site Canstar before helping to launch Savings.com.au in November 2018. Dominic's commentary has featured in various news outlets, including: Channel 7 News, News.com.au, Yahoo Finance Australia, Domain, Realestate.com.au, Daily Mail and Radio 2NURFM.

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