New Zealand's uneducated poor are falling further behind.
New figures show the income gap between families of unqualified and qualified parents has more than doubled over 25 years.
A Christchurch social agency says the figures are a symptom of many people being scared to take on education.
"For many, particularly those who are older, we are re-instilling in them that education of any sort, or learning of any sort, is not the scary thing they thought," said the Christchurch manager of social agency Supergrans, Zoe Manley.
"A lot of people we work with have a very poor educational background and a very bad history of education, and have continued through life believing that they can't learn."
Research by Auckland University academics released on Friday by the Ministry of Education showed the average income gap between those with no educational qualifications and those with a secondary education doubled to $10,396 between 1981 and 2006.
The proportion of uneducated couples who were out of work went from 6.9 percent in 1981 to 16.3 percent in 2006. The latest figure was an improvement on the 21.8% recorded in 1991.
The Gini co-efficient, an internationally recognised measure of income inequality, has gone from 26 in 1981 to 31.7 in 2007. A measure of zero represents perfect equality and 100 is perfect inequality.
Manley said people at the lowest ends of society lacked basic skills and were discouraged from improving themselves.
"They are led to believe and end up believing that they're no-hopers and they can't learn. Basically, they settle for depending on the Government because the Government dishes out," she said.
Social agencies were trying to teach basic skills to encourage a change in work ethic.
"We always give certificates at the end of courses to people who have never had certificates in their lives before, and they might be 50," Manley said.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand Educational Institute yesterday issued its 10-point plan for quality public education before its annual conference, which started in Wellington yesterday.
The union, which represents 49,000 teachers and support staff, said New Zealand's low wages meant 16 percent of children still lived in poverty.
- The Press