Prime Minister Bill English 'puzzled' by high numbers out of work and education

Both the Government and social agencies say they're struggling to reach at-risk youth.

There are approximately 92,700 Kiwis aged between 15 and 24 who aren't working, in education or training. That's up 19 percent during National's time in power, and Prime Minister Bill English admits he's not sure why.

"That is a bit of a challenge, a bit of a puzzle because we have in place any number of programmes providing pathways for young people from school into work," he told The AM Show on Monday morning.

"Part of the challenge is just finding them."

Mr English says they've had some successes - reducing the number of solo teen parents, for example - but overall it's been a challenge.

"We are chasing every single young person. Anyone who's in the area of working with youth will tell you our Government has made more effort than any previous Government to create pathways for young people."

Many, Mr English said, are tied up with family commitments.

"We find there's quite interesting groups in there - there's quite a big group of carers, for instance. Young people who aren't in education, employment or training for the very good reason they are at home looking after a younger sibling who might be disabled, or quite often an older person, maybe grandparents, who aren't well."

It's view echoed by those on the front lines. The Salvation Army's Greg Fortuin, also appearing on The AM Show, said there's a "host of reason" many of that 92,700 appear to be slipping through the cracks.

"They are kids who have failed in mainstream [education], or in my view the mainstream has failed them; they are kids addicted to drugs; many of the 92,000 are 20-24 year olds, they are looking after younger siblings, they're looking after older people, et cetera. There's a host of reasons why they exist."

Mr Fortuin said the global financial crisis of 2008 hit youth hard, with fewer job opportunities available, and a decade later the effect is still being felt.

"This was the worst-affected group then, and they are also the group which have not really gone any way forward under supposedly a recovery."

The number out of work, employment and training has risen despite improving school results, particularly for Maori and Pasifika students. Outgoing Education Minister Hekia Parata told The Nation at the weekend lifting Maori NCEA achievement rates from half to three-quarters leaving school with a qualification was one of her most significant achievements.

"Our government is constantly focused on how we improve, how we have the conditions for people to be able to live good and satisfying lives, and that's what our social investment approach is about."