Beneficiary numbers have dropped across the Western Bay as national welfare numbers hit their lowest point in five years.
Just-released Ministry of Social Development figures show 10,829 Western Bay residents, including Tauranga, received benefits in the three months to March 31, or nearly 600 fewer than during the same period last year.
The quarterly drop was even more pronounced, with the number of Western Bay beneficiaries in the March 2014 quarter falling more than 1050 from the December quarter.
The number of welfare recipients in Tauranga has dropped to 8361, and in the wider Western Bay of Plenty to 2468.
An overhaul of the welfare system in the past few years has seen sickness beneficiaries, sole parents and widows with no children under 14 face the same requirements as other jobless people, pushing more people off benefits and into paid work.
However, Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust social worker Jenna Young said the changes were having a positive effect on Tauranga beneficiaries.
"There seems to be a lot more wrap-around from Work and Income which is pretty good," she said. "There's heaps more positivity, I know that for a fact."
The overhaul had prompted beneficiaries to be more job-focused, she said.
"[Work and Income] guide you where you want to go, as opposed to continuously staying on the benefit. So they are helping a lot of clients." Changes requiring single parents to seek work once their youngest child turned 1 initially raised concerns, especially given a shortage of local jobs, she said.
But a recent upturn in local employment opportunities was helping turn things around.
"When [beneficiaries] figured that Work and Income were actually there to help them, it all changed."
Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dave Burnett said the drop in beneficiary numbers was great news for the Bay of Plenty and reflected an improving local business environment.
"Our members are seeing more confidence in business," he said. "More businesses are relocating to the Western Bay of Plenty ... and that obviously translates into needing more staff."
He said the changes varied across all industries but they had noticed big improvements in manufacturing and engineering.
Employment agencies had also been a lot busier in the past few months.
Earlier this month, the Bay of Plenty Times reported a 24.1 per cent rise in the number of jobs listed on Trade Me in the Bay of Plenty in the first quarter compared to the same time in 2013.
Nationally, benefit numbers have dropped 5 per cent, nearly 15,000, to 295,320 in the year to March.
Close to 60 per cent of the past year's reduction could be attributed to single parents coming off sole parent support, which dropped by 8600 in the year to March.
It was the biggest drop in a single year since the benefit, previously known as the domestic purposes benefit, was created in 1974.