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Turner: Unemployment figures hide disturbing trend

Media Statement
For immediate release
Thursday, 11 November, 2004

Turner: Unemployment figures hide disturbing trend

The Government's impressive unemployment figures conceal a disturbing trend in the number of long term unemployed, according to United Future social services spokeswoman Judy Turner.

She said the 3.8 percent unemployment figure released today needed to be looked at carefully.

Despite an overall decline in the number of unemployed from 149,256 in 1999 to 66,751 this year (down 55%), against this trend the number of those unemployed for more than three years has increased 24%, from 11,642 to 14,414.

"The real growth has occurred in those who've been unemployed for five to 10 years, up by a staggering 147%, from 3166 in 1999 to 7806 now. That means that the total number of people unemployed for over five years has actually doubled, from 4145 to 8336.

"Another feature of these numbers is that of those who've been on the dole for more than three years, over half (57%) are over 55.

"When you look at the number of unemployed broken down by age, you can actually see a lump of older unemployed moving through the different time bands each year, as they spend more time on the benefit.

In response to a parliamentary question Mrs Turner asked on this issue several months ago, Associate Social Development Minister Rick Barker admitted that "quite a number of people have been on the unemployment benefit for a long time. It is true to say that a significant slice of those people have been in the 50-year-plus group, and it is proving very difficult to get them into jobs."

"The existence of such entrenched unemployment against the general downward trend suggests that the government cannot continue to simply rely on the burgeoning economy to assist everyone into work.

"The Government needs to tell us what pro-active steps it is taking to reduce this pattern of dependency, particularly when it can also be seen in other benefit numbers."

Those on the invalids benefit for over three years have also increased by 35% since 1999, and despite the fact that it is only supposed to be a temporary benefit, the number on the sickness benefit for more than three years has increased by 9%.

"The government must address one of the underlying problems, which is the difficulty that older New Zealanders face in getting work. To be successful, such a strategy would need to combine programmes to upskill those who find themselves unemployed in later life, with a campaign aimed at employers to break-down any negative perceptions of older workers."

"Given the current skills shortage and the weakening ratio of workers to non-workers, it's essential that we utilise this spare capacity in the labour force, to help these people lead more productive lives."


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