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Children working to help their families fly under radar – CPAG

As many as 15,000 teenagers are taking on paid work to help pay for family basics and government agencies urgently need to find out how many are dropping out of school to do so, the Child Poverty Action Group says.

CPAG is urgently calling for adequate support to school students who are working too many hours while trying to keep up with their education.

In a review of available research on the issue, CPAG, with the support of Te Rourou One Aotearoa Foundation, found that there was no recent or relevant information on how many students are propping up household incomes, and the potential negative impact on their education or future employment prospects is unknown.

But, using 2022 data from the Education Review Office, CPAG calculated 15,000 of students were working 20-50 hours a week on top of study, but emphasised better data was needed to get an accurate picture of the situation.

“The contributions of these young people, who would otherwise be at school, is masking a problem. No one should have to choose between their education and putting food on the table for their family,” said CPAG convenor Alan Johnson.

“Anecdotal evidence from school principals in lower socio economic areas suggests there has been an upswing, notably since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020,” added CPAG researcher Harry Shi.

CPAG’s report — Overloaded and Overlooked: Investigating How Poverty Drives School Students into Paid Work — found that the last time a New Zealand government department collected and published information about school-aged workers was in 2010 and that research didn’t go into depth on the issue of the money being used to support families.

“Aotearoa is a different place than it was 14 years ago, and we need more information urgently. The world has completely changed since Covid and the cost of living crisis,” Mr Shi said.

CPAG found that income from school students aged 15 and older could affect a family’s Working For Families eligibility and was included in economic household data from StatsNZ, which was a measure of child poverty.

CPAG praised schools which had come up with innovative solutions to support students to stay in school with no assistance from the Ministry of Education, but emphasised addressing the root of the problem – insufficient incomes – should be a priority for the Government.

Current Labour laws prevent employers hiring workers aged under 16 to work between 10pm and 6am; or any student enrolled in a school to engage in paid work between 9am and 3pm.

CPAG says these laws are not enforced however rather than a crackdown the group is calling for laws that are fit for purpose.

CPAG is also not in favour of solving this issue with more truancy officers.

Instead, it wants a cross-Ministry approach, led by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social Development, to ensure poverty is not forcing any young person out of education, or into an unsustainable employment-education workload.

The issue is also the responsibility of the Education Review Office, NZQA Ministry of Business, Innovation Employment; Social Wellbeing Agency; Ministry of Youth Development; Ministry for Pacific Peoples; Oranga Tamariki, and their respective Ministers, as well as the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction and Minister for Children.

“Raising incomes is the single most effective way to lift people out of poverty, but until such time as these families have enough money to provide for their children, teenagers in these households should not be robbed of the opportunity to become higher paid skilled workers,” said Mr Johnson.

“When you have children opting out of school early, you’re perpetuating a cycle of poverty because you’re confining them to a life of unskilled, low-paid work which has consequences for us all because it robs society of skilled workers and potential productivity..”

CPAG used OHI Data Navigator, an insights tool developed by Te Rourou One Aotearoa Foundation, to undertake some of the background research.

The research, ‘Overloaded and Overlooked: Investigating How Poverty Drives School Students into Paid Work’, can be read here. https://www.cpag.org.nz/publications/overloaded-and-overlooked-investigating-how-poverty-drives-school-students-into-paid-work


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