A single parents' group says "a complete change of mindset" has helped reduce the number of people on the sole parent benefit to the lowest level in more than 20 years.

Numbers on sole parent support have plunged by 8600, or 10 per cent, in the year to March.

It is the biggest drop in a single year since the benefit - previously known as the domestic purposes benefit, or DPB - was created in 1974.

Sole parent support is now being paid to 75,844 sole parents, fewer than in any year in the DPB's history since 1988.


About 22,000 people with no children under 14 were moved to other benefits when the DPB was abolished last July, but even if they were added back in, the total number of sole parents on any kind of benefit is the lowest since 1993.

Auckland Single Parents Trust founder Julie Whitehouse said tighter rules, which require sole parents to look for part-time work when their youngest child turns 5 and fulltime work when that child turns 14, had completely changed attitudes.

"It's amazing," she said. "It's so good that I can't even get them to volunteer time. The whole mindset has changed."

Asked how many of her 580 members now had jobs, she said: "The shift is incredible, I'm almost tempted to say 100 per cent - it really is big. All the attitudes changed. Everybody knew that when your child is 5 you have to go to work."

The improvement is partly due to the economic recovery. Statistics NZ surveys show employment rose by 67,000 last year and the unemployment rate dropped from 6.8 per cent to 6 per cent.

But the 10.2 per cent drop in sole-parent welfare rolls in the year to March was almost twice the 5.3 per cent drop in jobseeker support.

The number of people on supported living payments, formerly called invalid benefits, rose 1.7 per cent.

The proportion of the total population aged between 18 and 64 on benefits dropped from 11.3 per cent to 10.6 per cent, the lowest since 2008 when it dipped briefly below 10 per cent for the first time since the 1980s.


Not all of those who have gone off benefits have got jobs. The Social Development Ministry said 11,000 of the 25,000 people who have moved off sole parent support since last July found work, almost 4700 entered into relationships and 1600 went overseas. Just over 5000 went on to other benefits such as jobseeker support when their youngest child turned 14.

About 16,400 parents moved on to sole parent support in the same period, leaving a net reduction of 8600.

The biggest net reduction (13 per cent) was for parents aged 40 to 54, whose children were most likely to have turned 14. The next biggest reduction was in the 18-24 age group (down 10.4 per cent), with a smaller reduction for those aged 25 to 39 (down 9 per cent).

The number of Europeans on sole parent support also dropped sharply (down 12.5 per cent), as did Pacific numbers (down 11.5 per cent). But Maori numbers fell 7.9 per cent, so Maori increased from 44.9 per cent of those on sole parent support to 46.1 per cent.

Michelle Neho, who runs the Pikorua community centre in Papakura, said she had seen little change.

"Not many have gone off the benefit round here," she said.

"It's not for lack of looking for work ... They are on the internet, they are job-searching, they are going for interviews, but it's the minimum hours, it's not fulltime employment.

"I have two grandmothers doing 11 hours a week of paid employment on top of their benefits.

"As one of them said to me: 'I can now put peanut butter and bread on the table.' But 11 hours isn't doing anything really in terms of taking care of the bills."