Beneficiary numbers have dropped across all three Wairarapa districts as national welfare numbers hit their lowest point in five years.

But a Masterton beneficiaries' advocate says benefit cuts, not jobs, are responsible for the reduction.

Just-released Ministry of Social Development figures show 3087 Wairarapa residents received benefits in the three months to March 31 - close to 90 fewer than during the same quarter last year.

The quarterly drop was even more pronounced, with the number of Wairarapa beneficiaries in the March 2014 quarter falling 118 from the previous three months.


The number of welfare recipients has dropped in Masterton to 2093, in Carterton to 445 and in South Wairarapa to 549.

An overhaul of the welfare system in the past few years has seen sickness beneficiaries, sole parents and widows with no children under 14 face the same requirements as other jobless people, pushing more people off benefits and back into paid work.

Wairarapa Beneficiary Advocacy Service's Trevor MacKiewicz said Wairarapa figures most likely reflected an increase in locals losing their benefits.

"I know people are finding it hard to find jobs in the Wairarapa. It's not easy ... I've heard of people being told by Work and Income that if they don't comply with their obligations then their benefits will be cut or reduced."

Beneficiaries often sent CVs out in search of work, but because many businesses never responded, it appeared they had not been actively job hunting, he said.

"It would be good if companies did reply and said, 'Sorry, there's no vacancies', or 'your application's not successful'."

Nationally, benefit numbers have dropped 5 per cent - nearly 15,000 - to 295,320 in the year to March.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the figures showed the lowest number of people claiming benefits since 2009, with recipient numbers back to pre-global recession.


"Post peak recession in March 2010, beneficiaries made up 12 per cent of the working age population," Mrs Bennett said. "This has dropped to 10.6 per cent as at the end of March."

Close to 60 per cent of the past year's reduction could be attributed to single parents coming off sole parent support, which dropped by 8600 in the year to March.

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

The figures are consistent with Statistics New Zealand's most recent household labour force survey, which showed the national employment rate rose 3 per cent in the year to December to 64.7 per cent of the working-age population.