Fewer on benefits in the Bay

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Tauranga MP Simon Bridges. Photo/File
Tauranga MP Simon Bridges. Photo/File

The number of beneficiaries in Tauranga is dropping but experts say too many are still struggling financially.

Ministry of Social Development figures show 7881 Tauranga people were receiving the main benefits at the end of December, down 645 on the same time the previous year.

Across the Bay of Plenty 23,374 were receiving benefits, down 1197 on the same time the previous year.

Tauranga National MP Simon Bridges said moving from welfare into work meant a better life for those Tauranga people and their families.

"In recent years there has been widespread reform of the welfare system, aimed at increasing independence where possible."

He said 209 fewer Tauranga parents were collecting sole parent support than in December 2014.

"Parents moving into full-time, sustainable employment helps to break the cycle of welfare dependency because we know that children who grow up in benefit dependent homes are more likely to end up on welfare themselves," he said.

Te Tuinga Whanau support service executive director Tommy Wilson said Tauranga was growing and there were more jobs and opportunities available.

However, the situation wasn't improving for many of the people he dealt with in the social service sector.

"There's still a big hardship factor in Tauranga like there is in the rest of the country."

Mr Wilson said too many working people required food parcels.

"These are good people, really good people, that struggle just to keep their kids at school, shoes on their feet and kai in their puku."

Tauranga was growing well and everyone was treating it as the "nirvana" of New Zealand, Mr Wilson added.

"Let's not think that all areas of the social structure are blossoming because they just aren't," he said.

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin agreed more people in the area were getting into work.

However, the statistics hadn't reduced the service's workload because more wage earners were seeking assistance.

Figures showed Maori made up more than half of Bay of Plenty people receiving main benefits last December.

Ms Bruin said a lot of Maori were retraining for specific jobs and were on a benefit while doing so. That suggested the number of Maori on benefits might come down as they finished qualifications and sought employment, she said.

New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell said more people were moving to the Bay of Plenty, and many of those new arrivals had a job or business.

New arrivals in the IT sector were starting to employ more people.

There were also job opportunities in the agriculture and horticulture industries thanks to the region's climate, he said.

However, the cost of living was outgrowing the minimum wage.

There was a shortage of housing in the area meaning people were paying a premium for it.

Mr Mitchell said having the opportunity to work could give people hope. Once they were working they could increase their income through further education or learning new skills.

"It's just getting people into the workforce and actually enabling them to get ahead," he said.

The reduced benefit figures were a good start in that respect, he said.

Nationwide, the number of people receiving a main benefit fell by 2.5 per cent in the last 12 months.

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said the region was experiencing positive economic growth and more people were finding work because of that.

While Mr Muller acknowledged and respected the opinion of agencies such as Mr Wilson's, he said the region was in a better place.

"Benefit numbers peaked a few years ago but have consistently dropped.

"The young people, especially Maori, are achieving so much more than what they were. Fifty per cent of Maori are getting their NCEA level twos. This is game changing, but that doesn't mean the job is done.

"When you have a city that's having good economic growth, that doesn't mean challenges are finished. We need to keep working together."

Ministry of Social Development figures show 301,349 working-age people, or 10.7 per cent of the working-age population were receiving a main benefit at the end of December 2015.

According to the figures, 57.4 per cent of main benefit recipients were female and 42.6 per cent were male.

Around three-quarters of main benefit recipients had been receiving a benefit continuously for more than one year.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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