25 Apr 2020

Covid-19 lockdown: Nearly 30,000 more people on jobseeker benefit

12:25 pm on 25 April 2020

In the four weeks since it was announced the country was going into lockdown, 33,000 more people have ended up on the benefit.

Wallet with no money.

Photo: 123RF

That increase means there are now more than 335,000 people receiving a benefit, according to new figures from the Ministry of Social Development.

It said while demand had not yet reached levels seen during the global financial crisis a decade ago, the pace at which people were needing support is faster than anything it had experienced before.

Much of the jump is people going on to jobseeker support.

New figures show that in the week to 17 April, there were 174,630 people receiving jobseeker support, compared to 145,006 people in the week to 20 March.

The big increase means 5.8 percent of the working-age population is now receiving jobseeker support, up 1 percent on a month ago.

Wellingtonian Luuk Abernethy came back to New Zealand from London a month ago.

He has signed up with two recruitment agencies but said jobs were hard to come by during the lockdown.

Abernethy was hopeful that might change at alert level 3, but until then, he was relying on the jobseeker benefit.

"Quite a few of my friends ended up coming back and all of them are in the same boat as me.

"It's all we can do really at the moment."

Ministry of Social Development group general manager client service delivery said many of those coming on to the benefit have never needed help from Work and Income before.

"We are seeing a greater proportion of people than usual who have not previously been on a benefit, and we are also seeing a greater proportion for whom it's been more than 10 years since they've been on a benefit," she said.

MSD has been working seven days a week to keep up with the groundswell of new applications.

More staff have been recruited and call wait times were now down to an average of two minutes, Read said.

That was having an impact, with more than 80 percent of benefit applications being processed within five working days, and more than 70 percent of hardship grant applications being processed within two working days.

As benefit numbers have grown, so too has the demand for food grants.

Last week, MSD handed out more than 67,000 food grants - down from a peak of almost 70,000 a week earlier.

Back in February, MSD was handing out about 22,000 food grants each week.

Solo mum Nadia was already on the benefit before the lockdown.

She said the past few weeks have been tough, with her two boys - aged two and three - at home.

Without the food grants she's been able to get, she said there would have been a much bigger strain on her budget.

"Some days may be colder, so the boys are eating more and more, and I've just found that we're just consuming so much more food than usual," Nadia said.

Food banks around the country have also been seeing a massive spike in the number of people needing their help.

Ronji Tanielu, from the Salvation Army, says people in deprived communities are often targeted by truck shops.

Ronji Tanielu. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Ronji Tanielu from the Salvation Army said it had been relentless.

"It's like getting massive waves from the sea that just keep coming over and over again.

"In one week we gave out just under 6000 food parcels and that was about the second week of the lockdown - that's usually what the Salvation Army would give out in one month," he said.

But the Salvation Army has warned the country cannot rely on food banks, as it has in the past, to support the growing numbers of people losing their income, housing and jobs because of covid-19.

Grant Robertson

Grant Robertson. Photo: NZME

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the government was doing what it can to help.

An extra $30 million was announced earlier this week to help Civil Defence and community groups provide more food parcels, he said.

"We will continue to work with those charities and we will continue to make sure that there's provision of support both through our [Civil Defence authorities], but also through the Ministry of Social Development," he said.

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