Auckland schoolboy Peniata Junior Endermann is just 16 years old but already works 25 hours a week to help keep his siblings in school and provide the basic necessities for his family.
The Edgewater College student works from 5pm until 10pm Monday to Friday as a cleaner earning $13.85 per hour.
Between school, his job and homework Endermann puts in 16-hour days.
His story was one of many told at a youth employment forum in Auckland this week.
The forum heard that one-parent working families were now experiencing severe financial hardship, young people were being forced into work through poverty and employment opportunities for school leavers were declining.
Endermann said he helped his mother, who also worked as a cleaner, to provide for his family and three siblings aged 15, 13 and nine.
"It is very hard to survive on my wage as it is not enough," he said.
The teenager's earnings helped pay for school fees, stationery and uniforms for him and his siblings but couldn't cover school trips which they always missed out on.
Every Child Counts chairwoman Liz Gibbs said she didn't know about Endermann's case, but it was indicative of people not having a reasonable living income.
"Of course a 16-year-old boy shouldn't be having to support his whole family. That's clearly not a great situation for us to have in a country like New Zealand where we've got a good education system," she said.
"Children need to have the right to complete their education and to also to create a good living wage for themselves."
Gibbs said poverty was complex and was a result of interrelated issues over a long period of time, from generation to generation.
"We believe the best solution to poverty is for parents to be healthy, educated and participating as fully as they can in the workforce. In order to do that, they need to be support in terms of good parent education and good child care."
She welcomed an expert advisory group report, set up by the Children's Commission, which was released this week.
The report advised that all child-related benefit rates, including the in-work tax credit be reviewed. There were 270,000 children living in poverty, and increasing parents' employment earnings is the most important way to help, it said.
Among the recommendations, the group suggested a universal child payment for the first five years and then targeted to those who needed it most.
It would be at its highest rate during infancy - about $125 to $150 a week - and then decrease as a child grew up, replacing the Family Tax Credit, Minimum Family Tax Credit, Parental Tax Credit and Childcare Allowance.
However, Prime Minister John Key has already ruled out the child payment.
Gibbs said she understood the commission would now cost the proposals, which needed to be affordable and targeted.
"The economy is not hugely robust, so I think we need to be practical. But I think it's really important to invest in the early years for all children, particularly the children living in poverty."
The youth employment forum also heard that big cities like London and Birmingham had implemented "Living Wage" initiatives to ensure that fair and adequate wages were paid to hard-working employees.
Mayor Boris Johnson last year announced that over 3,000 employees in greater London would be paid £8.30 per hour - $16.30 New Zealand.
Johnson said that the 'London Living Wage' provided a "minimum acceptable quality of life".
Living Wage Aotearoa New Zealand - which formed in May - called on Auckland Council to commit to the principle of a living wage to support community wellbeing and help combat rising poverty.
The forum was told that 60.2 per cent of New Zealand's 15 to 24-year-olds were currently employed, while 13 per cent were neither in employment, training or education.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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