Poverty activist hits back at Bridges over rise in Jobseeker Support recipients

Poverty first responders are urging politicians to stop pointing fingers.

National leader Simon Bridges has lambasted the latest Ministry of Social Development figures showing 15,000 more people are on the benefit over last year.

"These people and their children will lead worse lives because of this. This is not kindness. And it's not fair on hardworking taxpayers."

Most of the increase is made of people on Jobseeker Support - the basic unemployment benefit - which is up 10.2 percent since last September. 

But Mike O'Brien of Child Poverty Action Group says Bridges' comments are a bit rich, considering "the way National treated benefits and beneficiaries through most of their nine years".

"Frankly, many of the issues we've now got are because of the kind of range of policy measures that National ran from 2008," he told Newshub.

He said crippling rental prices and low wages are major concerns. A report last year found housing costs are the main driver of poverty and inequality in New Zealand, with after-rent incomes for the poorest New Zealanders still where they were in the 1980s due to rising costs.

"The key question is not about reducing benefit numbers - the key question is about making sure that people have got reasonable living standards, that they can be adequately supported through their work if they are working and the welfare system if they're not," said O'Brien.

The unemployment rate is currently 3.9 percent. It peaked under the last National-led Government at 6.7 percent in 2012.

National's 2015 Budget claimed to give benefits the first increase beyond inflation in 30 years, but came with stricter work obligations.

O'Brien says the benefit still isn't enough however.

"Anyone who's working on the front line will tell you that there's a sort of desperateness people have about, how am I going to manage? Where's my next meal coming from? How am I going to provide for my children?"

From next year, benefits will be indexed to wage growth - just like superannuation for the elderly is calculated.



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