A single Waikato mother of six children has been receiving benefits for almost 30 years.
She is one of an army of long term Waikato beneficiaries revealed in information released to the Waikato Times under the Official Information Act.
Social Development Ministry statistics show 1647 people in the region have been receiving some form of benefit for 15 years or more.
A further 1500 have been on it for between 10 and 15 years, 3655 between five to 10 years, 6309 between two to five years and 12,904 for less than two years.
Nationally, welfare payments cost taxpayers about $7.6 billion a year.
According to the ministry's information, Waikato's longest claiming beneficiary first started receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit in 1982 and is still on it. The ministry would not say where the woman lived or give details of how much she received.
If she was to receive the present DPB rate for the Domestic Purposes Benefit of $288.47 for the next 30 years it would cost taxpayers $449,280.
A spokeswoman for the ministry said the beneficiary had been raising six children during that time – three of whom were still dependent on her.
She also started caring for her sick, elderly mother in the past 10 years.
The Times understands the women's children are aged over six, meaning under the new Future Focus regime she would need to find part-time work, but because she is also caring for her sick mother, she does not have to.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett admitted the country had a problem with long-term beneficiaries, but changes to the welfare system were helping rectify that.
While she didn't know this beneficiary's circumstances, she said: "Spending 30 years on a benefit is neither good for an individual or, really, the children growing up in that family.
"All they have seen is the benefit receipt and no real evidence of work or what that means – or the value of it."
Ministry of Social Development chief executive Peter Hughes said the majority of long-term beneficiaries (70 per cent) in the Waikato were receiving an invalid's benefit.
"Many for lifetime conditions, such as intellectual disability," he said.
"Almost all of the remaining 30 per cent [long-term beneficiaries] are receiving the benefit because of caring obligations."
Mr Hughes said no Waikato person had received the unemployment benefit for more than 10 years.
Mana Party candidate, and former Green MP, Sue Bradford said the vast majority of people receiving welfare payments desperately needed them.
"We shouldn't begrudge them for that," she said.
"That could be any one of us if we had an accident tomorrow – or if we had a substantial mental illness, we would hope the state would support us. I would hope New Zealanders were compassionate to understand that. Our benefit system is there to support people who can't support themselves through no fault of their own.
"Would people rather they were begging on the streets or killings themselves, which becomes the only options you have?"
Ms Bennett said there was still a lot of work to do, though she would not reveal yet what plans she would implement if re-elected in November.
She said "a lot" of money still needed to be spent helping the long-term beneficiaries to get work-ready.
Waikato's longest serving beneficiary:
has been on the DPB for 29 years, six months
has received $450,000 in tax payer's money during that time
has six dependent children
cares for her elderly, sick mother
- © Fairfax NZ News