Prime Minister John Key says proposed reforms of the welfare sector will be rolled out in the lead up to the general election, but changes will mean that if people can work, they must.

The Welfare Working Group's final report, released in February, gave the Government 43 recommendations to reform the welfare system into a work-focused programme.

Mr Key today said the Government had ruled out one of the more radical recommendations, that solo parents look for paid work when their second child turned 14 weeks, saying he was "uneasy" about the short length of time.

The Government had expected to announce a package in response to the group's recommendations before the election but was pushed aside by the Canterbury earthquake.

He had now asked ministers to look at the group's recommendations and develop a comprehensive package of welfare reform.

The Government would announce policies in due course and campaign on them.

"It's important we signal to New Zealanders that if we are afforded a second term that there will be reform in welfare."

However, while ruling out the one recommendation he had earlier indicated was unpalatable, he would not go into detail on the remaining 42 recommendations.

Mr Key said it was unacceptable that the proportion of working age population on benefits had increased from 2 per cent in 1970 to 13 per cent today.

The welfare system should send a clear message that if you could work and support yourself, then you must, he said.

It was not doing enough to send that message, which was not fair on taxpayers, not affordable and not fair on beneficiaries who fell short of their potential, he said.

It was also not fair on the approximately 220,000 children growing up in welfare-dependent households.

Mr Key said the proposals would not mean instant reform of the welfare system but that more workers would be needed as the budget anticipated 170,000 jobs created over next four years.

The welfare group's February report said the cost of welfare would go from $47 billion to $34b by 2021 if its reforms proceeded -- cutting the 360,000 on welfare by 100,000, by putting work obligations on them in exchange for support such as childcare.

It said the Government should set clearer expectations for people on the welfare system to look for paid work, and if recipients do not meet their obligations, they should face gradual reductions of assistance.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett will lead the group of seven ministers going over the recommendations to develop the Government's policy.

- NZPA