South Canterbury benefits numbers 'disappointing', despite some drops

Timaru Budget Advisory Trust co-ordinator Don Macfarlane says the current benefit numbers are disappointing for South ...
KOREN ALLPRESS

Timaru Budget Advisory Trust co-ordinator Don Macfarlane says the current benefit numbers are disappointing for South Canterbury, compared to the national rate.

South Canterbury's benefit numbers have been labelled as disappointing compared to the national rate by the Timaru Budget Advisory Trust co-ordinator.

That was despite declining benefit claims in the Timaru and Mackenzie districts.

Figures released by the Ministry of Social Development show the number of Work and Income benefits claimed in South Canterbury declined by .35 per cent, from 2778 to 2768, between the March 2014 quarter and the same period in 2017.

The national figures for benefits claimed dropped by 5.8 per cent in the same period to 278,236.

Trust co-ordinator Don Macfarlane said the claims rate in the Timaru District, which declined 1.7 per cent from 2309 to 2269, was "disappointing".

The overall South Canterbury figure was "skewed" as figures from the other districts were polar opposites, Macfarlane said.

There was a 10.9 per cent rise in the number of benefits claimed in the Waimate District, from 376 to 417, between the March 2014 and March 2016 quarters.

Benefits claimed in the Mackenzie District dropped from 93 to 82 during the same period, which was a 11.8 per cent decline.

"Waimate is typical for a small town where employment opportunities are limited."

The statistics reflected raw numbers and not whether people were better off not on a benefit, he said.

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"If a sole parent [on a benefit] can manage without a car, they can provide for their children ok," Macfarlane said.

But it was "ludicrous" to not have a car in many areas.

About 41 new clients approached the trust for help each month on average.

The trust was on target to reach for 492 new clients during the financial year, he said.

"It's business as usual."

Other social services experienced an increase in demand during the same period.

Timaru Salvation Army lieutenant Emma Howan said the Timaru branch assisted 694 people with household goods and food in the year to March, 2017.

That was an increase from 598 people assisted in the previous year to March, 2016.

"We've seen no change in the needs of people coming to us for help," Howan said.

"While we would love to see the level of need decline that is currently not what our stats show."

Waimate's Community Link coordinator Jakki Guilford met with Work and Income earlier this year to discuss options to achieve "better outcomes for Waimate".

The main drivers for the increase appeared to be migration, due to the lower cost of living and cheaper rentals, Guilford said.

"In saying that we do have a high proportion of people on the supported living allowance based on figures given to me by Work and Income and this is concerning."

Programmes were being developed to help jobseekers find work, she said.

The jobseekers register had placed a couple of people into work within the past few weeks, which was a service open to the public, she said.

Ministry regional commissioner for Social Development John Allen said a range of factors, including local economic conditions, changes in employment patterns and wider population changes, could affect the number of people claiming a benefit.

"While the number of people on benefit has increased slightly in the South Canterbury region since last year, longer-term trends are seeing the numbers go down, in line with what we are seeing across the country," Allen said.

The increase in Waimate was small during the four-year period, he said.

 - Stuff

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