National has put the blame for an almost 50 per cent annual increase in electricity and gas hardship payments squarely in the lap of the Government.
The party's leader, Simon Bridges, said the numbers showed the realities of a higher cost of living under this Government.
But Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said the numbers show that people in need are willing to come forward because they know they won't be turned away.
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Figures from the September quarter report on benefit and hardship payments show the number of hardship grants for electricity and gas increased by almost 5000 compared to this time last year.
That increase to just under 16,000 payments – at a cost of $6,255,000 – represents a 46 per cent increase.
Bridges said the sharp increase shows how much the increased cost of living is impacting people's back pocket, citing extra costs such as increased fuel taxes.
"Even the Winter Energy Payment to 'help seniors and families who need extra help pay for heating' hasn't helped because of all the extra costs that are being piled on."
He said the numbers help show that New Zealanders "can't afford this Government".
But Sepuloni told the Herald the Government has always said it would provide assistance to those who need it – "this increase demonstrates that we are".
"The rise in grants is related to the costs of housing, so where housing costs are high like in Auckland that's where we see people coming in for assistance."
She turned the numbers back on Bridges, saying if it wasn't for the "nine years of neglect" while National was in Government, where she said it sold off state houses while not building new homes, the hardship numbers wouldn't be as high as they were.
Bridges said he was also concerned that a significant number of these hardship payments were loans.
"[This] means that our most vulnerable are now in debt because they wanted to keep their families warm."
Sepuloni said the Government does not want to see the most vulnerable people get further into hardship, which is why the Government provides loans so people don't have to go to lenders and face potentially higher interest rates.
"People pay debt back at rates they can afford which is the fair and just thing to do while still upholding the integrity of the welfare system."