Benefit rates remain low

Latest benefit figures show the proportion of the working-age population receiving a main benefit remains similar to this time last year, with the rate of people on youth and parent benefits continuing to decline, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said today.

The total proportion of working age people on a main benefit is 9.9% compared to 9.8% in the December quarter last year.

“Temporary industry-specific issues, particularly for the construction industry in Auckland and Christchurch have influenced the numbers as fewer people were able to leave benefit to take up these roles,” Carmel Sepuloni said. The Government is working closely with that industry to help it fix long term procurement issues.

“The annual figures show some welcome developments, with decreases in youth and parent benefits. Helping young people and parents into work and training is a focus of a number of this Government’s policies.

Rates on main benefit are different from the official unemployment rate, which was last recorded at 3.9 percent, down from 4.7 percent at the same time the previous year.

“Quarterly figures show the typical rise in the December quarter from September. This happens as students finish the academic year and apply for support over Summer as they search for work.

“There’s been an annual increase in MSD clients participating in employment and work ready programmes to meet job shortages.

“MSD continues to grow industry partnerships with seasonal industries through its Skills for Industry programme and around 12,000 MSD clients entered all types of seasonal work in 2018.

“MSD will meet again tomorrow with the Hawkes Bay Growers who are asking for a labour shortage declaration for next month’s apple harvest.

Last season, the Ministry placed over 1000 MSD clients into horticultural jobs in the Hawkes Bay region and during last year’s labour shortage declaration (12 March to 29 April 2018) MSD continued to link workers with the industry to assist with meeting their labour needs.

“The latest benefit figures show that more people who are applying for hardship assistance are getting it. The need has been there for years but under this Government people know where to go when they need support.

“This has seen a rise in the level of hardship assistance being given, particularly food grants and emergency housing grants. Many people struggle to make ends meet over the Christmas period, particularly when seeking employment and affordable accommodation and I want families and individuals to get the help they need.

“MSD has made significant shifts in its service delivery over the last year to improve its service culture and ensure that people are getting the support they are entitled to and that they are not unfairly sanctioned, driving them and their families into further poverty.

“Demand for hardship grants is related to the cost of housing. In places like Auckland where rents and housing costs remain high, there’s been an increase in people seeking extra support from MSD, including through initiatives like our partnership with the Auckland City Mission over Christmas.

“The Welfare Expert Advisory Group will deliver its report on how to make the welfare system fairer for all New Zealanders, at the end of February.

“It will take time for us to see the effect of policy changes and initiatives. Until then, MSD will continue to help support more New Zealanders into meaningful and sustainable employment and receive the support they need.” Carmel Sepuloni said.

The December Quarter Benefit Numbers can be found here.