Grant payments which go towards emergency food have increased by 54 per cent in region in the last year, a rise said to be hitting working families.

Figures released by the Ministry of Social Welfare showed the amount paid for Special Needs Grants in the Bay of Plenty increased from $1,337,974 in September 2015, to $2,065,893 this September.

The Bay's 54.4 per cent increase was above the national average of 46.7 per cent.

However, the number of payments was below the national average of 16.8 annual percentage increase, and sat at 12.8 per cent.

Requests for the grants were mainly for food, followed by accommodation and medical costs.

Community worker and people's wellbeing advocate Shelly Fischer said in her view the problem came because housing prices had risen but wages hadn't.

"The accommodation supplement hasn't risen to meet the demands of the increase of rent either so people are having to cut into food money.

"Things need to be reassessed, the benefits need to be rising," she said.

Ministry of Social Development (MSD) Bay of Plenty regional commissioner Mike Bryant said hardship assistance had increased for electricity and gas, getting driver's licences and health related costs.

He said the new Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant which began in July had also contributed to an increase in Special Needs Grants.


Waiariki MP and Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said more needed to be done for people in hardship.

"The poverty facing people today didn't happen overnight, it has been happening over generations and to get to the heart of the problem, a new inter-generational and all-of-government approach is needed.

"Over the past few months, more and more people are coming to me for help because they can't get accommodation, mainly in the private market, so we advocate for them and most are placed in emergency hotel type accommodation but we know this will only ever be a short-term solution for them.

"I was part of the drive to set up the housing hub at Taharangi Marae so government departments, community groups and whanau ora workers could better co-ordinate their efforts to help the homeless. The hub was a real eye-opener and showed all involved a better way of working, so I'll be advocating the Government to do this on a larger scale in places of high social deprivation," Mr Flavell said.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay said hardship grants were available in a range of circumstances and the increase in part was likely to be a result of population growth in the Bay of Plenty.

"I'm advised that emergency housing payments have contributed to this increase. There has been a greater focus on this issue, and the Government introduced a non-recoverable emergency housing Special Needs Grant in July. Grants have also increased for things such as car repairs, medical costs and electricity and gas.

"MSD is currently analysing what is behind the increases, however it is worth noting that many people, who have previously left Rotorua, are now returning and the Bay of Plenty in general is experiencing good, solid trade-based growth.

"What is important is that people who find themselves in hardship have the support to get them through. These Special Needs Grants are there just for those type of situations," Mr McClay said.

Rotorua-based New Zealand First list MP Fletcher Tabuteau said what he had seen travelling the country was a people divided.

"It is a country where more and more there are those who have and there are those who have nothing. Rotorua is the same, we have some of the highest deprivation rates in the country here. Whilst many of us are doing really well, many of us are truly suffering.

"Without doubt, the housing crisis is worsening, the public are waking up to the harsher realities of National's disastrous immigration policy and poverty has become more entrenched," Mr Tabuteau said.

Labour Party Waiariki candidate Tamati Coffey said the increase was proof more people weren't able to afford the basics and was another "shameful sign of poverty that has become acceptable in New Zealand today".

"The Government is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, instead of tackling the real issues, like why people are falling in the first place.

"In Rotorua, this rise is absolutely tied to our housing crisis and to a local economy that is sustained by low wages. Forty-three per cent of our people have an annual income under $20,000. It's no wonder they need a top up."