Welfare rolls are plunging at an accelerating rate in Auckland, but have risen in Canterbury for the first time since reconstruction work began after the 2011 earthquake.

Figures released by Social Development Minister Anne Tolley show that Aucklanders on benefits shrank by 7400 or 7.9 per cent in the year to December, from 93,500 at the end of 2014, to an eight-year low of 86,147, confirming other signs of a construction-driven boom in the Queen City.

But beneficiary rolls swelled by 3.9 per cent in Canterbury from 26,300 to 27,400, the first year-on-year increase since 2010, as earthquake reconstruction work passed its peak.

Benefit numbers also rose in the dairying regions of Taranaki (up 4 per cent) and Waikato (up 1.2 per cent) as lower dairy prices hit local jobs, but continued a decline that started with recovery from the global financial crisis in most other regions including Northland (down 2.9 per cent), Bay of Plenty (down 4.9 per cent), Hawkes Bay (down 1.7 per cent), Manawatu-Whanganui (down 2.6 per cent) and Wellington (down 1.5 per cent).


Overall, the national total declined by 2.5 per cent to 301,349 or 10.7 per cent of the working-aged population, the lowest since December 2007.

"Solo parents continued to lead the way, with a 5.7 per cent drop or 4154 fewer people receiving Sole Parent Support," Mrs Tolley said.

Numbers on jobseeker support fell by only 1.4 per cent to 122,900, the slowest annual decline since the economic recovery began to bring down unemployment numbers in 2011.

Numbers on the other main benefit, the supported living payment (formerly invalid's benefit), were unchanged at 93,800.

As usual, young people suffered most heavily in the recession and are now gaining most from the recovery with beneficiaries aged 18 to 24 dropping by 6.2 per cent in the past year.

Those aged 25 to 39 fell by just 1 per cent, those aged 40-54 fell by 3.6 per cent, and beneficiaries aged 55-64 increased by 0.3 per cent as "baby boomers" born in the 1950s moved closer to retirement age.

Perhaps reflecting their relatively young population, Pacific people have achieved the biggest drop in welfare rolls by ethnic group (down 6 per cent), followed by Asians and others (down 5 per cent), Europeans (down 2.6 per cent) and Maori (down 0.7 per cent).

Mrs Tolley said last year's Budget funded Work and Income to provide intensive case management for a further 40,000 beneficiaries "to help more people into employment".


"The additional places are focused on sole parents and jobseekers with health conditions and disabilities and take an intensive and proactive approach to supporting people into work," she said.

"We've set an aspirational target to reduce the total number of people receiving main benefits by 25 per cent [from 295,000 people in June 2014 to 220,000 in June 2018] and reduce the long-term cost of benefit dependence by $13 billion."

The latest benefit data is available here