Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni was quick off the mark to announce the government’s achievement in getting more people off benefits. She says the government’s response to COVID-19 has helped keep people in work, with March Quarter Benefit statistics showing a further fall in the number of people receiving a main benefit and jobseeker assistance.
There were 19,883 fewer people on a main benefit, compared with December, with near-record numbers of people moving into work, Sepuloni said.
The figures also showed an annual fall of 4.8 per cent in the number of people receiving a main benefit.
She claims it was the government’s quick response to COVID-19 that had worked, with initiatives such as the Wage Subsidy and the economic support packages keeping people in work and delivering record low unemployment.
“Two years into our response to the Global Pandemic we have continued to defy Treasury forecasts, which predicted 487,500 people on a main benefit in January 2021. This did not happen and there were 348,339 people receiving a Main Benefit as at March 2022.
“Despite the rhetoric from the Opposition, the facts show that there is a smaller proportion of workers on a benefit now than when National was government during the Global Financial Crisis.”
Sepuloni was curiously cheered that 11.1 per cent of working-age New Zealanders are now receiving a Main Benefit two years on from the beginning of the pandemic, which doesn’t seem to be something worth celebrating, but it compares with 13.1 per cent two years after the Global Financial Crisis.
“The facts clearly show that when it comes to keeping people in work, we are doing better in our response to COVID-19 than National did during the Global Financial Crisis”.
Let’s not quibble that the National government in 2008 inherited a huge deficit from the previous Labour government.
Sepuloni is proving to be one of the more effective ministers in the Ardern government.
But she still has a problem with the numbers of people on a Jobseeker benefit, given the shortage of workers in virtually every key industry.
“The number of people receiving a Jobseeker Work Ready main benefit, is 100,854, or 3.2 per cent of the working age population. This is in line with the reported unemployment rate in the Household Labour Force Survey”.
She describes as “encouraging” the high number of people moving off a benefit and into paid employment.
In March 2021, a record 32,883 people moved off a benefit and into paid employment. March 2022 is a close second with 31,524 people finding work in the first three months of the year.
Sepuloni insists it is the investment made in front-line work-focused case management that is helping people move off benefit and back into work quickly. This investment is also paying off for longer-term beneficiaries with 10,506 people who had been on a main benefit for a year or more finding employment in the March Quarter.
But hey – it is surely astonishing that more than 300,000 New Zealanders are drawing a main benefit.
Equally astonishing is that about 60 per cent of those drawing a jobseeker benefit have been on it for over a year.
It’s a conundrum why so many Kiwis are on a benefit for so long.
But it may explain why we have such appalling statistics on child poverty.
Still, Point of Order expects Sepuloni will be able to report yet more improvements in the benefit numbers as the year moves on.
Last week, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment predicted that 50,000 New Zealanders will leave for Overseas Experience or for work, after two years of Covid-19 restricting international travel. That should exert even more pressure on the labour market.
As the minister says, while the signs are encouraging, “we will continue to watch the situation closely and respond where needed,” .