Sepuloni is chuffed about reduction in numbers on benefits – but more than 300,000 Kiwis are being succoured by the state

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,” .

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