High youth unemployment rates could lead to a spike in suicides, Progressive MP Jim Anderton is warning.

The comments follow a New Zealand Institute report on disadvantaged youth, released this week, that found efforts to tackle youth unemployment had made little progress.

Mr Anderton today said high rates of youth unemployment inevitably led to high rates of suicide.

"In the `90s, four peak years of youth unemployment were followed by the highest youth suicide rates in the Western world,'' he said.


"We are about to see a repeat. Our suicide rates are already at high levels, with over 500 deaths a year. At the current level of youth unemployment, suicide will increase again in coming years.''

Some 17,000 young people aged 18-24 were on unemployment benefits - down from 23,500 in January last year.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett earlier this week said the Government had maintained a high priority on young people with a particular focus on employment.

"This Government has spent millions on upskilling young people, getting them work experience and that vital foot in the door with a first job,'' she said.

"No one wants to see young people floundering on benefits and we will keep the focus on our youth. However evidence tells us the programmes this Government has introduced are making a difference.''

Ms Bennett said extra efforts from Work and Income staff had ensured young people made up 94 percent of the reduction in unemployment benefits in the last month alone.