Just a handful of East Coast beneficiaries had payments cut for taking drugs last year.

But a social issues advocate says cuts are not the answer to drug issues.

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

Last year there were 1831 referrals for drug testable positions on the East Coast and fewer than five beneficiaries had sanctions applied for failing, according to Ministry of Social Development (MSD) figures provided to Hawke's Bay Today.


Napier city councillor and social justice advocate Maxine Boag said she was glad so few beneficiaries were having benefits cut as a result of the policy, as cuts did "huge collateral damage" to families.

She thought drug treatment programmes would be more effective than cuts. It was important workers using heavy machinery, for example, were not impaired by drugs. However, it was cruel to cut benefits to people with families.

Ms Boag said the drug tests also failed to detect alcohol and synthetic drugs and could drive people to those drugs.

She said beneficiaries in the area were genuinely looking for work but there was not enough to go around, which was disheartening.

Hawke's Bay had a lot of seasonal, low-paid hospitality and horticultural work.

There was not as much meaningful, well-paid work in the area as there used to be, Ms Boag said.

Nationwide, 31,791 referrals were made for drug testable positions last year with 55 sanctions for failing a drug tests, according to MSD figures.

Sanctions 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 of Social Development deputy chief executive, 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.

It aimed to get them back to a position where they could apply for a full range of jobs.

Beneficiaries diagnosed with drug dependency would not be sanctioned under the policy, but would receive the support they needed to deal with their addiction, she said.