Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has compared some long-term beneficiaries to crack addicts, sparking criticism.
Mr English made the comment while speaking to about 100 voters at a meeting at Club Mount Maunganui yesterday in his final push to Tauranga voters ahead of Saturday's election.
"Getting stuck on a benefit (long-term) is like crack cocaine, it's really hard once you've started to come off it ..."
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He delved into the economy and outlined his party's economic plans.
He was joined by Tauranga MP Simon Bridges and Bay of Plenty National candidate Todd Muller.
National's economic plan was about growing the economy steadily, creating 150,000 more jobs by 2018, delivering higher incomes, helping more businesses to succeed and addressing long-term welfare dependency, which was costing the country billions, he said.
Once people entered the benefit system, particularly those aged under 20, they often stayed on it for years, and there were concerning numbers who had been on a benefit for up to 20 years, Mr English said.
"Getting stuck on a benefit (long-term) is like crack cocaine, it's really hard once you've started to come off it...
"We know hooking adults back into the education system and getting them off benefits into work in seven years rather than 20 saves the country millions," he said.
Mr English said one of the main reasons the country's economy was consuming billions of dollars was in the number of people on benefit long term, including many receiving sickness benefit.
Welfare statistics showed there were 300,000 people on benefit, costing $76 billion over a lifetime, and about $50 billion worth was driven by those who started on a benefit under the age of 20.
Mr English said National was getting 1600 people off welfare and back into work each week, which was "pretty good start" and the Ministry of Social Development's case-management approach with long-term clients was paying dividends.
Research also showed many beneficiaries had solvable problems such as depression that once addressed would enable them to return to paid work.
Mr English said voters had a stark choice - vote for National and "steady as she goes" and sensible fiscal spending or vote for the "others" and watch the ship start to list and sink.
The country was in good shape and it was not time to make dramatic changes, he said.
Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services executive director Tommy Wilson said Mr English's reference to crack cocaine showed a lack of understanding.
"You have to be there to understand it's not an addiction. Most people don't have a choice."