Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Welfare rules force people to struggle on without benefits

Salvation Army says fewer seeking food aid despite hard times

The demand for jobs is growing markedly. Photo / Christine Cornege
The demand for jobs is growing markedly. Photo / Christine Cornege

Fewer families are going to the Salvation Army for food parcels, despite tougher welfare policies which are creating a widening gap between numbers on welfare and the total unemployed.

The Council of Christian Social Services pointed yesterday to "a growing gap between those who receive a benefit and those in genuine need who are either losing or unable to obtain social welfare assistance".

Unemployment increased in the two years to last September from 144,500 to 170,000, but those on unemployment benefit dropped by almost a quarter from 65,281 to 50,390.

Sole parents on the domestic purposes benefit have also dropped in the past year. Rules for both benefits were tightened in September 2010, when unemployment beneficiaries had their benefits cancelled if they failed to reapply after a year.

Sole parents were required to look for part-time work when their youngest child turned 6, an age reduced to 5 last October.

Christian Social Services executive officer Trevor McGlinchey said his members were reporting increases in demand for their services as people found benefits harder to get.

Auckland City Missioner Diane Robertson said her mission gave out 11,427 food parcels last year, 19 per cent more than in 2011 and almost three times as many as in 2008 before the recession hit.

Lisa Woolley of VisionWest in West Auckland said her numbers were down in the four months to September but jumped by 28 per cent from the same period the previous year in October and November.

But Salvation Army welfare head Major Pam Waugh said the numbers seeking Salvation Army food parcels nationally dropped by 7 per cent in the September quarter compared with the same time the previous year.

"We have had a 17.5 per cent increase over three years, but we have stabilised over the past year."

Ironically, the tighter welfare rules may also partly explain the rise in unemployment, as beneficiaries are counted as unemployed only if they are actively looking for work. Employment slipped only slightly from 63.6 per cent to 63.2 per cent of adults in the two years to last September, but the "jobless" rose from 7.1 per cent to 8.4 per cent because those not looking for work fell from 29.3 per cent to a record low of 28.4 per cent.

Many people who lost their jobs may have been among a net loss of 73,671 people to Australia in the two years to September.

- NZ Herald

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