Order Paper and questions

Questions for oral answer

11. Unemployment Benefit—Reports

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11. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has she received on the number of New Zealanders receiving an unemployment benefit?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : In 1999 there were over 161,000 people on the unemployment benefit. That number is roughly equivalent to the population of Hamilton. There are now fewer than 20,000 people in receipt of an unemployment benefit. That number is less than the population of Masterton. That is a fantastic outcome for 8 years of a Labour-led Government.

Russell Fairbrother: What reports has the Minister received on the number of people on the domestic purposes benefit?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have seen a report that indicates that the Labour-led Government is supporting more sole parents to get off benefits and into paid work. Since the introduction of the Working for Families package in 2004, the number of people on the domestic purposes benefit has fallen by nearly 13,000. That is the largest fall in the number receiving the domestic purposes benefit since it was introduced in 1973. That is quite a contrast to the rising number we saw in the 1990s.

Hon Tariana Turia: Can the Minister tell us whether she has any reports about the number of young Māori who are unemployed and under the age of 25 years?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I can certainly give the member, firstly, some figures, and, secondly, my assurance that I share her concern that despite the dramatic drop in the number of Māori unemployed, including young Māori unemployed, the numbers are still disproportionate to those for the rest of the population and are too high. Currently just over 7,000 Māori are on the unemployment benefit. That number has fallen from a staggering 44,000 in December 1999, so 37,000 Māori have moved off the unemployment benefit in those years.

Hon Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My supplementary question specifically asked about the number of young Māori, who make up the majority of the population. Can I have the figures for young Māori?

Madam SPEAKER: No. As the member well knows, one cannot expect a specific answer to a question, particularly to a supplementary question because no notice has been given to the Minister.

Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister have accurate figures for the number of teenagers aged between 15 and 19 who are receiving the unemployment benefit, and can she assure us that every effort is being made to ensure those young people find employment; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The number of under-20-year-olds on the unemployment benefit has dropped by 16,441, or 94 percent, since 1999, and has dropped by 493, or 31 percent, just in the past year. So at the end of March the total figure was 173. I give that member, as I have the member who asked the preceding question, my absolute commitment—a view shared by my ministerial colleagues and the Mayors Task Force for Jobs—to ensure that this investment remains in our young people, so that their futures will be brighter. That will continue.

Russell Fairbrother: What reports has she received on the reasons that people move off the unemployment benefit?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Not surprisingly, although it may be news to the National Party, the main reason for people leaving the unemployment benefit is to enter paid work. In the last 8 years, 8.8 percent of all unemployment benefit cancellations were the result of a transfer to the sickness benefit, and less than one-third of 1 percent of all unemployment benefit cancellations were the result of a transfer to the invalids benefit. Those figures should finally put to rest the accusation that the Opposition spokesperson on social welfare consistently makes that these outstanding figures for the reduction in those on the unemployment benefit are as a result of a transfer to another benefit. That is not true; they are the result of people moving into paid work.

Judith Collins: Why has she not done more to help the 60,000 working-age people who, according to the ministry’s own benefit fact sheets, have been on the unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, invalids benefit, or domestic purposes benefit for more than 10 years; and can she tell the House why the ministry no longer retains the benefit history of those long-term beneficiaries, as per her answer to written question No. 01522?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The number of people on the unemployment benefit has dropped dramatically—by 94 percent in the last 8 years. The number of people on the sickness benefit has dropped considerably, and the member should know that, tragically, a large number of people will be on the invalids benefit for a long period of time because they are seriously and permanently impaired. I support their having permanency in the only form of income they are able to receive.