Economic damage of COVID-19 leaves 30,000 more people on jobseeker benefit

By Sarah Robson for RNZ

Close to 30,000 more people have ended up on the jobseeker benefit in the four weeks since the lockdown was announced, new figures from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) show.

In the week to April 17, there were 174,630 people receiving jobseeker support. That 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.

In the coronavirus press briefing from Parliament on Friday, the Finance Minister admitted it was "a distressing time" for those on the benefit - but says they represent just a small portion of the population.

"We have to bear in mind this represents less than 1 percent of our total population, and is dwarfed by the 1.6 million people who are being supported by the wage subsidy scheme," Grant Robertson said.

There has also been a significant jump in the number of hardship grants being handed out by MSD each week.

Just more than 67,000 grants were made for food in the week to April 17, a drop of more than 2700 on the figure a week earlier, which was almost 70,000 grants.

In the week to March 20, more than 26,600 grants were made for food. Earlier in the year, MSD was handing out about 22,000 food grants each week.