Alanah Eriksen

Alanah Eriksen is the New Zealand Herald's property reporter, and assistant chief reporter.

Decades on dole costing thousands

Twelve New Zealanders receiving benefit for more than 15 years and four for more than 20, figures show.

Most long-term recipients of the dole live in rural areas. Photo / Getty Images
Most long-term recipients of the dole live in rural areas. Photo / Getty Images

An East Coast man on the dole for 25 years is the longest unemployment beneficiary in the country and has been paid more than $260,000 in taxpayer money.

Others on a list of the top 10 have all been receiving the payments for more than 15 years, according to information released to the Herald from Work and Income New Zealand.

The single man started on the unemployment benefit when he was 37 and is now aged 62.

Based on the current benefit rate for a person aged over 25 with no children, the man could have been paid $204.96 a week after tax - not including any additional payments he may have been entitled to - which is $266,448 over 25 years.

Nearly $2 million would have been paid out to the top 10 recipients, who were mainly single men with no dependent children.

Eight were from the wider Auckland region, and one was from the wider Wellington area.

All but one lived in rural areas, said Winz deputy chief executive Debbie Power.

One man had a criminal record which had inhibited his ability to secure employment in his area.

Another was employed part-time and the benefit topped up his income.

Twelve people on Winz books had been receiving the unemployment benefit for 15 years or longer, while four had been receiving it for at least 20 years. Beneficiaries must reapply for the payments every year and provide evidence of their search for jobs, Ms Power said.

Those applying for a benefit are required to attend a Work For You seminar which focuses on steps people should take to find work.

Between 30 and 40 per cent of people who attend the seminar do not require a benefit within 28 days.

Labour spokeswoman for social development Jacinda Ardern said that in the last four years the number of people on the unemployment benefit had increased by almost 20,000.

"Currently the Government is not filling its end of the deal by supporting job creation.

"It's well documented though that the longer a person is out of the workforce, the more difficult it is for them to get back into it. For this small group of people, we need intensive case management by Work and Income and an absolute focus on addressing all of the issues preventing that person finding work."

NZ First spokeswoman for social policy and welfare Asenati Lole-Taylor said those living in rural areas may need to think about moving closer to cities where there were more job opportunities, although she accepted many were put off by expensive living costs. "I'm one of those people who just don't accept that people can become statistics on the welfare system, knowing full well that they're capable of working. I object to the idea of the welfare system being seen as an easy way of accessing money.

"I certainly wouldn't like to see myself in that kind of a situation, nor would I expect anyone from my family to be in that situation.

"Twenty-five years - that's a hell of a long time for anyone to be sitting in the welfare system. Surely, after five or 10 years you would think 'I need to get out of here to get a better life'. And if other people can make it, why can't he? Anyone who's on a benefit for more than 15 years, who is not a solo mother with young kids ... it's just madness."

Mrs Lole-Taylor came to New Zealand from Samoa when she was 17 and lived with a sister and her struggling family while finishing high school.

"I came to this country with nothing except for education. We didn't have anything fancy on the table, a lot of the time it was just baked potato and mutton flaps. I remember being very cold, and going to school here in the winter, still wearing summer shoes and sometimes no shoes ... but I was determined I wasn't going to be on a benefit, so I worked extremely hard to get where I am."

The mother-of-three served on several community boards before becoming an MP in February last year.

Green Party social issues spokeswoman Jan Logie said the number of unemployed people, which hit a 20-year high last year at 175,000, was a "frightening number of people out of work, driven by the National Government's spectacular failure to deliver the jobs it promised and its inability to stem the crisis and loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector".

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she hoped the welfare reforms would help get more people off the benefit.

"It just isn't acceptable for people to remain on unemployment benefits for more than 20 years and most New Zealanders agree."

She said 81,000 people went off welfare into work last year. Of those, 26,000 were young people. "We need to tackle long-term, entrenched welfare dependence in this country, which is exactly what the second stage of welfare reform will do."

- NZ Herald

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