Fewer than five Northland beneficiaries had benefits cut for failing drug tests last year and an advocate says the figure proves how "desperately keen" people are to work.

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 2101 referrals for drug-testable positions in Northland and fewer than five beneficiaries had sanctions applied for failing, according to Ministry of Social Development (MSD) figures provided to the Northern Advocate under the Official Information Act. The ministry suppresses the exact figure for values of five and under to protect clients' privacy.

Whangarei Citizens Advice Bureau co-ordinator Moea Armstrong said unemployed people were keen to work but were too often labelled "useless druggies". "This statistic proves that actually most people are really desperately keen for a job and they're not doing drugs."


She said the country had nearly full employment in the 1970s. "To me, that shows that when there is work available people want to work," she said.

Ms Armstrong said being on an unemployment benefit was not a lifestyle choice but more a punishment for what she considered systemic failure. She thought most people led drug-free lifestyles and beneficiaries couldn't afford to do drugs anyway.

"There's not enough even for ciggies these days, let alone anything else."

Nationwide, 31,791 referrals were made for drug-testable positions last year with 55 sanctions for failing a drug tests, according to MSD 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 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 to deal with their addiction, she said.

There were differing levels of financial sanction depending on how many times a beneficiary failed to meet their obligations.