Key Points:

The number of people on the unemployment benefit has dropped by a third in the past year and the overall working-age beneficiary numbers have dropped by 34 per cent since 1999.

Figures released today by Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope show unemployment beneficiary numbers dropped from 44,549 at the end of March 2006 to 28,845 at the end of March this year -- a decline of 35 per cent.

The number of solo mums and dads on the domestic purposes benefit (DPB) also dropped 6 per cent over the same period.

But the figures show the number of people receiving the sickness and invalid's benefits continued to grow, by 4 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.

Since 1999 sickness benefit numbers have risen by 46 per cent and invalid's benefit numbers by 47 per cent.

Overall 265,747 working-age people are receiving a benefit -- down on the 401,415 receiving one in December 1999.

Mr Benson-Pope said the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit was now at a 27-year low.

He credited the Government's "active labour market policies".

The Government's Working for Families package was also successfully encouraging solo parents back into work.

Despite an ageing population growth in the sickness and invalid's beneficiary numbers was slowing, he said.

Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia said the number of Maori on the unemployment benefit had dropped below 10,000 for the first time in years.

The number was now 9902 -- down from 44,000 in 1999.

The official unemployment rate stands at 3.7 per cent -- one of the lowest among developed nations.

- NZPA