Labour is accusing the National Government of doing nothing to prevent rising unemployment.

Figures released today showed the number of people on the unemployment benefit rose 13 per cent last month, with 66,328 people receiving the benefit at the end of December, up from 58,541 in November.

Social Development and Employment Minister Paula Bennett said today the increase was not a surprise as it reflected the yearly influx of students leaving school and tertiary education.

Labour leader Phil Goff said more than 2500 had queued for hours for one of 150 jobs at a new supermarket in South Auckland yesterday.

"These are not dole bludgers, they are Kiwis who are desperate to work."

New Zealand's unemployment rate was still one percentage point higher than Australia's 5.5 per cent, he said.

"This shows clearly that while Australia has a coherent plan to deal with the downturn, National has been content to sit on the sidelines and watch. The livelihoods of tens of many thousands of hardworking Kiwis suffered as a result."

An increasing number of people were still losing their jobs and struggling to feed their families, despite Prime Minister John Key's confidence late last year that jobless numbers were coming down, Mr Goff said.

"Unemployment rose to 150,000 last year, while many more thousands of Kiwis were also forced to work reduced hours and wages were squeezed."

Labour deputy leader Annette King said the big increase showed the Government did not have a coherent plan to deal with growing unemployment.

"It's not good enough for Paula Bennett to downplay this sharp spike simply as a seasonal rise and to hide behind percentage changes in past years," Ms King said.

"That is just dodging the issue and is an insult to those who are desperately trying to find work. "

Ms Bennett also said swaying the figures was the fact that many employers tended to not hire over the Christmas period, shutting down for the break, which further tightened the labour market.

From November to December 2008, the increase in unemployment benefit figures was 28 per cent. The same period in 2007 saw a 13 per cent rise, in line with the latest figures for 2009.

"While the economic outlook is beginning to improve, the peak in unemployment has not yet been reached and we expect numbers to go up," Ms Bennett said.

"The Government has an unrelenting focus on supporting people into work. Results to date show we are doing just that. Despite the economic climate we are seeing increasing numbers of people coming off the unemployment benefit into work."

This time last year 1772 people had come off the benefit - last month the figure was 3810.

- NZPA