Children's money worries go unheard

Dr Russell Wills, Chidren's Commissioner, says it is time to listen to children's concerns.
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Dr Russell Wills, Chidren's Commissioner, says it is time to listen to children's concerns.

Child poverty experts and the Children's Commissioner say it is time Statistics New Zealand started including older children in its economic survey work.

On Wednesday, Statistics NZ's General Social Survey was released, giving insights into how satisfied people are with their lives, incomes, and housing.

But despite alleviating child poverty being the focus of the May Budget, no child under the age of 15 was interviewed by Stats NZ, leaving their views unheard.

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills said New Zealand needs to start listening to the voices of children, and old misconceptions of children's inability to express their own views needs to be laid aside.

"I do think there are many issues that we could, and should survey younger young people on for their views, particularly when these issues effect them," Wills said.

Children are often overlooked because it is assumed giving them a voice will only increase that of their parents, who speak for them, but Wills said the recent Scottish Independence referendum challenged that.

The age limit for voting was dropped to 16 for the vote, and 40 per cent of those under 18 voted differently to their parents, he said.

But despite submissions to New Zealand Parliament from the public on the last general election showing strong support for dropping our voting age to 16, there's no intention of even letting younger New Zealanders vote in the referendum on the flag, which they will have to live with far longer than the adults who are allowed to express their view.

Jonathan Boston, co-author of Child Poverty in New Zealand said Statistics NZ including younger children in their surveys was: "a very moot point."

"I think that to not hear the voices of children is to miss some very important evidence," he said.

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And, if they were not going to be quizzed, more questions to adults that captured children's interests and concerns should be considered, he said.

For Inequality author Max Rashbrooke excluding children from the survey was symptomatic of a country where there were big holes in the data on which social policies were built.

"It would seem like a big oversight," he said, adding the phrase "data in New Zealand is not available" was a common feature of some child poverty reports published here, despite other countries collecting it.

"That's very much the New Zealand story."

A spokesman for Statistics NZ said: "We have used 15 and over as a benchmark for a number of reasons. We do get household information in the General Social Survey, which does give some context on the wellbeing of children in the household."

And, he said: "As a bit more of a procedural reason, we align the systems that sit behind our surveys. In particular, the General Social Survey is aligned with the three-monthly Household Labour Force Survey, which is also set at 15-plus."

Different survey methods would be needed to survey younger children. "Directly surveying those under 15 would also mean a separate survey approach, as it is designed for adults," the StatsNZ spokesman said.

Despite being voiceless in official surveying, many children are making money decisions to seek income to better their family's lot, or to come to accept that spending on things like birthday parties are not something they will seek.

But in a publication in October 2013, the Office of the Children Commissioner noted: "Little has been recorded about how New Zealand children and young people see and experience poverty in their lives, let alone their ideas about solutions. Their experiences are subsumed into the experiences of households and families."

The Commissioner has begun a massive survey of children through schools to try to fill that blindspot.

BAFFLING NUMBERS

The General Social Survey tells us what people say about their circumstances in life.

It indicates the results of being poor on people's lives, with higher incidences of people reporting they don't have enough money, live in cold, damp houses, and don't feel safe in their neighbourhoods.

But while there are fewer people with low levels of life satisfaction in households with higher incomes, many low income households report themselves as having high levels of satisfaction, and so do those getting by on benefits.

Not everybody is convinced survey data can be taken at face value.

Inequality author Max Rashbrooke says surveys of workers show New Zealand workers are happier at work than Danish ones, while being paid worse, doing longer hours, working in less safe workplaces, and having little collective bargaining power.

"People are extremely good at rationalising their situations, and New Zealanders are too good at accepting what people in other countries would regard as unacceptable."

 - Sunday Star Times

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