Charity calls on the rise

By Brendan Manning, Amie Hickland

Fewer Wairarapa residents are on benefits but local service providers have said demand for extra help has increased significantly in recent times.

New statistics from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) show 3378 people from Wairarapa were on benefits at the end of December, 11 fewer than the previous quarter and 565 fewer than in December 2011.

Masterton Food Bank co-ordinator Maureen Potts said they are handing out an average of 50 food parcels a month.

She said the demand had been on the rise since Christmas, and there aren't any signs of it slowing down.

February and August 2011 had the highest demands for the whole of last year, and January has already exceeded that.

"I think it is harder out there," she said. "I think a lot of it is the cost of living."

The Salvation Army Masterton has seen the same trouble.

Families ministries co-ordinator Adam Grove said many beneficiaries were struggling to make ends meet.

"If a bill comes up it puts them back," he said.

Those who were struggling locally could go to the local Salvation Army and receive food parcels, Mr Grove said.

They were allowed two food parcels within the space of six months and if they needed extra help, they first had to undergo compulsory budget counselling.

"If they're not willing to go to budgeting and sort it out, you pretty much find out that they don't really need the help."

As of December, 339,095 people nationwide were receiving benefits, up 5.6 per cent from the previous quarter.

However, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said that the number of people on benefits was at its lowest level since 2008.

Beneficiary numbers fell by nearly 12,000 year-on-year.

"But with 339,095 people on benefits in New Zealand, there is much more work to do."

New Zealand's unemployment rate is currently at 7.3 per cent - the highest level since June 1999.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said that a fall in the number of unemployment beneficiaries while unemployment itself was rising raised concerns about whether government welfare changes were preventing Kiwis getting the help they needed.

"It's unusual that at the same time the number of people who are out of work is rising, the number of people getting unemployment benefits is falling.

"It would be extremely concerning if many people who need help because they have lost their job are not getting help because of National's punitive welfare changes."

Work-testing has been introduced for domestic purposes beneficiaries, as have a raft of new obligations and management of benefits for youth and teenage parents.

Further reforms are currently before the social services committee that simplify the benefit system from seven to three: jobseeker support, sole parent support for parents with children under 14, and supporting living payment for people significantly restricted by sickness.

In need

339,095 people on a benefit nationwide in December 2012 (5.6 per cent increase)

320,942 on a benefit in September 2012

7.3 per cent of New Zealanders unemployed

Benefits in Wairarapa by the numbers:

December 2012

3378 working-age (aged 18-64 years) recipients of a main benefit.

642 working-age recipients of an unemployment benefit.

1054 working-age recipients of a domestic purposes benefit.

513 working-age recipients of a sickness benefit.

1049 working-age recipients of an invalid's benefit.

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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