The number of people receiving Jobseeker benefits in the Bay of Plenty has increased by more than 2600 since the lockdown came into effect on March 25.
Ministry of Social Development figures as at May 1 showed there were 18,069 people on Jobseeker Support in the Bay of Plenty, that's 2622 more than as at March 27 — a jump of about 16.9 per cent in five weeks.
The figures rank Bay of Plenty as the second-highest region in New Zealand for needing job seeker support, following behind the Auckland Metro region's 60,400 job seeker beneficiaries.
Nationally as at May 1, 184,404 people were receiving Job Seeker Support payments. That's an increase of 32, 659 or 21.5 per cent since March 27.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Social Development said it was delivering a range of employment services, including a Keep New Zealand Working online recruitment tool connecting people directly to employers. It also included online training courses.
The spokesman said the ministry was establishing 35 employment centres across the country to connect employers over the phone and online with those needing work. This included centres in Mount Maunganui, Rotorua and Whakatāne.
"We've established rapid response teams in the regions to work directly with industry on redeployment. In the Bay of Plenty, we're linking people who have lost their jobs into the kiwifruit industry, health care and cleaning," he said.
The Bay of Plenty team was also identifying job seekers with logistic and driving experience to be ready when the Port of Tauranga opens up again for kiwifruit and logs.
National Party leader Simon Bridges said 1000 people a day were losing jobs nationally and that showed why the Government needed to end the lockdown "now".
Bridges said the longer the lockdown went on, more jobs would be lost.
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said it was paramount people supported local businesses to keep them going as long as possible while keeping money moving through the local economy.
"A lot of local businesses are reliant on other local businesses, so the more money that can move through the local economy, the better."
He said businesses which had downsized to get through this period would eventually require more staff when the new way of operating under the contact-tracing and social distancing restrictions was worked through.
"There are still a lot of people who need to be fed, entertained and want to connect with others ... there is that strong local need there."
Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust executive director Tommy Wilson said his trust was in talks with Ngāti Ranganui iwi on how they could create new social enterprise employment opportunities in response to the rising unemployment rate.
"Our trust had been working with lots of working-poor before the lockdown, and our emergency housing clients are not new poverty. But now, because some aren't working, they're under huge Covid-19 distress and that's only going to grow exponentially once the Government lifts the wage subsidy," he said.
Wilson said the focus needed to be on the post-Covid-19 recovery phase and the creation of more job opportunities.
"This is not the time to try and invoice the Government for the rise in unemployment when the economic impacts of the lockdown are a global problem."
Tiny Deane, from Rotorua-based charity Visions of a Helping Hand, said his trust was also encountering more people without work during the lockdown.
"And we are also seeing a lot of domestic violence because the dad has lost their job."
Despite this, Deane believed the Government was right to impose the lockdown when it did, otherwise "a lot more people would have been dying".
"To me, you have to put human life over business every time and I'm glad we went into this lockdown when we did," he said.
Paul Barber, the Salvation Army's Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit analyst, said Jobseeker numbers had been rising before the Covid-19 crisis began, due to fewer jobs being available in some sectors.
"The lockdown and the current level 3 restrictions were a necessary health response to the pandemic and to avert worse social and economic effects of a larger pandemic."
Tauranga Community Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said they had experienced an increase in the need for food parcels and the lockdown would have hit people hard no matter how long it lasted.
Love Soup Rotorua founder Elmer Peiffer said before Covid-19 hit the country, the trust was dealing solely with people on welfare benefits.
"Since the lockdown, we have also been assisting a lot more people with food security because they have lost their jobs which is very sad," he said.
"But we can't blame the Government. If the lockdown had not come into force when it did, there would have a lot more sick people and they would have lost their jobs anyway."
Peiffer said moving out of the lockdown too early would also be a "very bad" decision.
"People's health must come first. Just have a look at what is happening in the US."