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The number of Western Bay of Plenty residents on benefits has dropped more than 7 per cent as more jobs become available, according to new figures.

Ministry of Social Development figures show 11,028 Western Bay of Plenty and Tauranga residents claimed benefits in the three months to December last year – 868 or 7.3 per cent less than the same quarter in 2013.

In Tauranga, 626 fewer people claimed benefits during the 2014 quarter, while 242 fewer people claimed benefits in the Western Bay of Plenty district.

For the entire Bay of Plenty, 24,571 residents claimed benefits in the three months to December last year – 728 or 2.9 per cent fewer than the same quarter in 2013.

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said the service had had fewer beneficiaries seeking help recently.

“We haven’t slowed down but that’s due more to an increase in wage earners rather than beneficiaries,” she said. “More jobseekers seem to be getting into work because there are more jobs available.”

The tourist trade had provided a lot of casual work opportunities over the holiday period, she said.

“It’s good for the local economy and good for individuals’ development. The kiwifruit harvest falls after the tourism trade dies down so there should be plenty of work out there for the next six months or so.”

The service had taken on extra staff to cope with back-to-school demand for budgeting advice, she said.

Nationally, the number of people on benefits dropped by more than 12,000 in the year to December to 321,869 recipients.

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley said the decline showed the Government’s welfare reforms were continuing to support New Zealanders into work.

“This is the lowest December quarter since 2008 and the third consecutive quarter [June, September, December] with such record lows,” she said.

“Performance is strong around the country with only two regions, Wellington and Taranaki, registering a slight increase compared with the same period in 2013.”

Numbers on the Jobseeker Support benefit – which made up the largest portion of benefit recipients – dropped by more than 5000 to 124,631.

Sole parents were also increasingly moving off benefits and into work, she said.

“There are more than 5300 fewer people on the Sole Parent Support benefit compared to last year, a drop of 6.8 per cent, and every region around the country recorded a reduction,” Mrs Tolley said.

New Zealand Beneficiaries and Unemployed Workers Union spokesman Miles Lacey said the drop in beneficiary numbers did not necessarily mean people’s living situations had improved.

“A lot of the people who have moved into work will only be working casually or part-time so it can still be really hard for them to make ends meet,” he said.

A greater focus on building up people’s skills, in line with job requirements, was needed to improve employment, he said.

Bay of Plenty Times