Figures released today show a hike in the number of people on the unemployment benefit - up 13 per cent last month.

At the end of December 66,328 people were receiving the benefit, up from 58,541 in November.

Social Development and Employment Minister Paula Bennett said the increase was not a surprise as it reflected the yearly influx of students leaving school and tertiary education.

"Many employers also tend to not hire over the Christmas period, shutting down for the break, which further tightens the labour market," said Bennett.

From November to December 2008, the increase in unemployment benefit figures was 28 per cent. The same period in 2007 saw a 13 per cent rise, in line with the latest figures for 2009.

"While the economic outlook is beginning to improve, the peak in unemployment has not yet been reached and we expect numbers to go up," Bennett said.

"The Government has an unrelenting focus on supporting people into work. Results to date show we are doing just that. Despite the economic climate we are seeing increasing numbers of people coming off the unemployment benefit into work."

This time last year 1772 people had come off the benefit - last month the figure was 3810.

Yesterday 2500 people queued up for hours to apply for one of 150 jobs at a new supermarket in Auckland.

NZPA