The Government is defending its record on benefits amid the release of new figures which show the number of people receiving them is still soaring.

The Ministry of Social Development figures show 15,000 more people were on a benefit by the end of the December 2019 quarter compared with the same time the previous year.

The number of people on Jobseeker Support has increased by 10 per cent over the same period to a total of 147,464.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni has put the increase down to a softening in some sectors, like manufacturing, and low unemployment which made for a tight labour market.


But she said she was "heartened" by numbers that also showed an increasing number of people coming off the benefit and into employment over two consecutive quarters.

"We're not interested in just getting people off benefit for the sake of it, we need to know that they're going on to something positive and we're seeing that."

The number of people on the benefit has been steadily rising since the end of December 2017 when the number sat at 289,788 and has now reached 314,408.

National has slammed the rising figures with leader Simon Bridges saying benefit numbers were now back to levels last seen during the Global Financial Crisis.

"Thousands of vulnerable Kiwis are now also struggling to find jobs with the economy showing sluggish growth and no plan from the Government to deliver the growth New Zealand needs.

"Recent figures obtained by National show many jobseekers now go months without talking to a case manager about employment. That's completely unacceptable. If the Prime Minister is serious about tackling poverty her Government needs to get the economy moving."

National's Social Development spokeswoman Louise Upston said part of the problem was case managers having to devote more time to giving out hardship grants.

Sepuloni said of the 263 additional case managers announced in last year's budget, 170 were employed, with another 93 to be employed this year.


They were work focused, she said.

"That doesn't mean that if they are working with clients and they've got financial needs that they're not able to do that as well but they are work focused and we've been very careful to make sure that we ringfence them and that they don't get pulled into the general pull at MSD offices."

People are also struggling to get a permanent roof over their heads with the number of Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants showing no sign of slowing down.

By the end of the December 2019 quarter 15,265 more grants had been dished out, totalling 30,941, compared to the same time period in the previous year.

The average value of each grant has icreased from $1,244 to $1,555 for the same time.