Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the rise in people on the unemployment benefit is partly due to people collecting it who were previously entitled to it but didn't realise.

The latest benefit numbers to the December quarter in 2018 showed that there were 134,048 people on Jobseeker Support, up 11,007 from the previous year.

This contributed to 299,345 working-age people on main benefit, or 9.9 per cent of the working-age population - up 9557 from a year ago.

This comes as the unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 per cent in September 2018 - the lowest since 2008 - prompting the National Party to criticise the Government for failing to match job-seekers with its programme to plant trees or to fill vacancies in Hawke's Bay orchards.


Speaking on Newstalk ZB this morning, Ardern said the rise was in part due to the Government trying to ensure that the welfare net was catching everyone it was meant to.

"One of the things I at least anecdotally in the past have heard is that people weren't always accessing their entitlements with Work and Income," Ardern said.

"In a country where people would say, 'Why do we have homelessness when we have a welfare net?' ... [it's about] making sure that actually the net was being used appropriately.

"Of course we want people in work, but if they can't find work or are unable to work, they should be able to access the benefit."

She said the Government was trying to match job-seekers with job vacancies.

Yesterday the Government announced $82 million for increasing employment opportunities for young people in the regions, focused on Māori and Pasifika people.

The lion's share of the $82m, from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), would go to Northland, Bay of Plenty, Tairāwhiti, Hawke's Bay and Manawatū-Whanganui.

The announcement was made at Mangatoa Station near Kaikohe, where Shaade Rakete, 20, and Alpine Dunn, 19, spoke to media about working in a silviculture programme.


Rakete, who was previously a stay-at-home mum, said she went to work to earn more money for her children.

"The benefit wasn't supporting us, and I just wanted to get out there."

Dunn said he hadn't been at school since Year 10, having been expelled, and would be at home doing nothing if it weren't for the programme.

Yesterday the National Party attacked the Provincial Growth Fund for creating just 54 jobs in its first year.

National's regional development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said only 38 of the 135 announced projects had received funding, representing just 3.4 per cent of the total $850 million PGF funding announced so far.

"That's $26.6 million for 54 jobs, or the equivalent of $490,191 per job," Goldsmith said.

Ardern told Newstalk ZB that she would have to check those figures, adding that it would take time for PGF projects to kick into gear and create jobs.

"On a week-to-week basis, the amount of FTEs [people in full-time equivalent work] is going to change, so I really dispute trying to take snapshot in time and claiming that's accurate."