Just a handful of beneficiaries had payments cut for taking drugs last year and a Whanganui advocate says a lack of jobs - rather than drug issues - is preventing people finding work.

Beneficiaries with work obligations are now required to pass a drug test as part of a job application, with sanctions applied to their benefits for failing the test.

Last year, there were 1493 referrals for drug-tested positions in the Ministry of Social Development region that includes Whanganui, Taranaki and King Country.

Fewer than five beneficiaries had sanctions applied for failing a drug test, according to ministry figures supplied to the Wanganui Chronicle.

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Gary Reid, of Whanganui People's Centre Advocacy Service, said a lack of jobs was the main thing keeping people from working, although there was also "a bit of a drug issue" in Whanganui.

"The big problem we have in Whanganui is there just isn't enough work and a lot of it's casual or seasonal."

He said young people on job seeker benefits were keen to work.

He'd recently seen an influx of people going on to the benefit after finishing flood clean-up contracts. "They've had to apply for benefits but they'd rather be working than being on a benefit."

Mr Reid said he thought the majority of his clients were drug-free.

He said workplace drug tests should be up to employers and he didn't see why the Government needed to be involved in the process.

Beneficiaries were under enough pressure without the threat of having their benefits cuts for failing drug tests.

He also believed more funding into drug and alcohol services was necessary.

Nationwide, there were 31,791 referrals for drug-tested positions last year with 55 sanctions for failing a drug tests, according to ministry figures.

Sanction for failing a drug test made up less than 0.5 per cent of the 15,000 total sanctions applied for working age beneficiaries last year.

Ministry deputy chief executive of service delivery Ruth Bound said the drug policy aimed to identify clients prevented from taking up suitable jobs due to drug use or who refused to apply for drug-tested jobs.