Crowding measured poorly

November 26th, 2014

 The apparent fine grain of measuring ‘crowding’ used in the latest Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report is misleading. The Home Environment section includes the following explanatory box.


Box 10.1.3    Housing occupancy standard used by ABS (the Australian Bureau of Statistics)

There is no single standard measure for housing crowding. 

The ABS uses a standard which is sensitive to both household size and composition (based on the Canadian National Occupancy Standard). 

Using the following criteria to assess bedroom requirements, households requiring at least one additional bedroom are considered to be overcrowded:
• There should be no more than two persons per bedroom
• A household of one unattached individual may reasonably occupy a bed-sit (that is, have no bedroom)
• Couples and parents should have a separate bedroom
• Children less than five years of age of different sexes may reasonably share a bedroom
• Children five years of age or over of different sexes should not share a bedroom
• Children less than 18 years of age and of the same sex may reasonably share a bedroom
Single household members aged 18 years or over should have a separate bedroom (ABS 2011).

There is nothing wrong with considering bedroom householder composition.  Not represented in this view of crowding are the appalling function rates of the houses. Lack of working facilities in one house means people must crowd into another house to gain the essential health giving services of a shower, toilet and kitchen or, miss out altogether.

Imagine a community of 20 houses and 100 people.

Then assume there were 5 people per house and the allocations of ages and bedrooms complied with the Canadian National Occupancy Standard noted above.

Before we begin to consider the services and function of these 20 houses, based on detailed surveys in over 7,500 houses, occupied by Indigenous people in Australia, we can safely ‘guess’ the following.

– more than 51% of the houses have more than 5 people living in them (so our community is not the norm or even near the Australian average of 2.6 people per household)

– 94% of the houses are less than 200 square metres in size (the Australia average house size is 214 sq.m) SEE HOUSING FOR HEALTH THE GUIDE REFERENCE DATA

So there are more people, living in significantly smaller houses than the national Australian average.

Now consider that 37% of the houses have a working shower. Where do you get your daily shower? At a friend’s house. this increase the actual crowding levels with more people forced to use each square metre, in the few working houses. SEE DATA ON FUNCTION RATES 

Add in the other function factors for toilets, electricity function and kitchens and the story gets much much worse.

As a final factor, as summer approaches in Central Australia outside temperatures will regularly reach 40C. The internal temperatures of poorly designed and uninsulated houses will offer little improvement inside the house and will often exceed this temperature in the later parts of the day. People will be forced to crowd into the cooler rooms of the house for some relief. This reduces the ‘actual’ useful area of the house and will further increase functional crowding (density of people per square metre).

Why are the current measure of crowding so blind to the reality of housing in Indigenous Australia?