3 Oct 2022

Government celebrates Healthy Homes Initiative report

4:23 pm on 3 October 2022
MP Dr Ayesha Verrall speaks to media at a post-cabinet press conference

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The government is touting the Healthy Homes Initiative, with a report suggesting the programme reduces people's chance of going to hospital by nearly 20 percent.

The Three Year Outcomes Evaluation report, funded by the Ministry of Health, suggested people who benefited from the programme were 19.8 percent less likely to go to hospital, 3 percent less likely to be absent from school, and 4 percent more likely to be employed after receiving help from the programme.

Adults aged 24 to 64 were 9 percent less likely to be on a benefit after receiving help from the programme, and if they went to hospital it was less likely to be severe.

The report concluded the initiative was having a tangible impact.

"This evaluation shows the benefits of the HHI programme greatly exceed the costs in the first-year post-intervention. The data indicates that the benefits are persistent and will accrue each year," the report said.

"There is unambiguous evidence of broad investments in wellbeing. The HHI is reaching low-income Māori and Pacific populations and therefore will be helping to address equity in health and social outcomes. This programme is an excellent return on government investment."

The programme is available in 11 regions, and is expected to expand to the remaining nine by the end of the year.

Speaking to media after this week's Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said the results of the programme supported the decision to roll it out nationally.

"We inherited a programme that was underfunded and narrowly targeted. We've invested $30 million in the initiative and in Budget 22 funded its extension to the whole country," Verrall said.

"Programmes like this are improving the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders and are a key component of our plan to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child."

The report said the main costs of the programme were for staffing, with more than $55.6 million spent over eight years between December 2013 and December 2021.

It said 75,858 people from 14,625 households were identified as having been through the HHI process in that time, with 90,00 interventions made.

Those interventions include provision of things like beds and bedding, curtains, minor repairs, insulation, floor coverings, heating, support with power bills, and finding alternative accommodation when needed.

However, limited information was available on the amount spent to improve households.

"The other cost is the costs of the intervention funded by philanthropic and community partners and support from other government agencies, especially EECA and Kāinga Ora. These will be established in future reports," the report said.

It estimated $46.3 million in costs were averted with 9744 fewer cases of children taken to hospital. Another $13.9 million was estimated to have been saved through reduction in severity.

"In total, the expected value of the social benefits in the first year after the HHI intervention is approximately $71 million. Given a total cost of $56 million, this means that in the first year alone, the value of the social benefits alone exceeds the programmatic cost. There are a number of assumptions underlying these estimates," the report said.

Ardern and Verrall said a total of more than 142,000 New Zealanders had been helped by the initiative, including more than 31,000 children and pregnant people, and 111,000 of their family members.

Ardern said the amount spent would differ from household to household depending on needs.

"This is an investment that saves New Zealand money in terms of reducing the pressure on our health system but also and what's more important is keeping our children out of hospital."

In a statement, Associate Minister of Health Aupito William Sio said it was significant that 94 percent of referrals identified as Māori or Pacific.

"Many in our communities live in multi-generational households and have multiple health conditions."

The report used data consensually collected by providers in the programme, combined with other information including tax data. It tracked 75,858 individuals in 14,625 households using anonymised identifiers.

Most of those who provided data lived in rental housing - 10 percent were owner-occupiers - with a roughly equal split between private rentals and Kāinga Ora provision.

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