A lack of employment opportunities for Hawke's Bay beneficiaries is concerning a local Salvation Army manager.
New statistics from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) show 13,827 Hawke's Bay residents were receiving benefits at the end of December, 706 fewer than during the previous quarter and 551 fewer than in December 2011.
Hawke's Bay Salvation Army manager of community ministries Chris Morgan said those who had their benefits cut due to government reforms weren't surviving.
"Some have moved in with family because they can't afford their rent.
"The thing is, they're trying to get jobs, but there is no work that will pay the equivalent to the benefit or a bit more so that they can survive and go and pay $300 or $350 a week rent."
Mr Morgan said most people he dealt with did not want to be on a benefit.
"They'd rather be working, but there's no work."
As of December, 339,095 people nationwide were receiving benefits, up 5.6 per cent on the previous quarter.
However, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the number of people on benefits was at its lowest level since 2008.
Beneficiary numbers fell by nearly 12,000 year-on-year.
"But with 339,095 people on benefits in New Zealand, there is much more work to do."
New Zealand's unemployment rate is currently at 7.3 per cent - the highest level since June 1999.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said a fall in the number of unemployment beneficiaries while unemployment itself was rising raised concerns about whether government welfare changes were preventing Kiwis getting the help they needed.
"It's unusual that at the same time the number of people who are out of work is rising, the number of people getting unemployment benefits is falling.
"It would be extremely concerning if many people who need help because they have lost their job are not getting help because of National's punitive welfare changes."
Work-testing has been introduced for domestic purposes beneficiaries, as have a raft of new obligations and management of benefits for youth and teenage parents.
Further reforms are currently before the social services committee that simplify the benefit system from seven to three: jobseeker support, sole parent support for parents with children under 14, and supporting living payment for people significantly restricted by sickness.
The bill also requires jobseekers to be drug-free, and beneficiaries with children to immunise them and enrol them in early childhood education.
The Treasury and the MSD have estimated that the number of beneficiaries could be cut from between 28,000 and 44,000 by 2016-17, saving between $992 million and $1.6 billion.
A Cabinet paper released by the Treasury on December 19 said the variations were due to uncertainty of implementation and changes to delivery and eventual design details.
The Government spends $8 billion a year on welfare benefits.
Ms Bennett said last year an estimate based on the expected duration of all current beneficiaries showed the lifetime costs to be $78 billion.
Benefits in Hawke's Bay
(Hawke's Bay figures made up of Flaxmere, Hastings and Hastings West, Napier and Napier South, Taradale, Waipukurau, Wairoa)
13,827 working-age (aged 18-64 years) recipients of a main benefit.
2216 working-age recipients of an unemployment benefit.
5153 working-age recipients of a domestic purposes benefit.
2263 working-age recipients of a sickness benefit.
3690 working-age recipients of an invalid's benefit.
14,533 working-age recipients of a main benefit.
2685 working-age recipients of an unemployment benefit.
5218 working-age recipients of a domestic purposes benefit.
2163 working-age recipients of a sickness benefit.
3650 working-age recipients of an invalid's benefit.
14,378 working-age recipients of a main benefit.
2794 working-age recipients of an unemployment benefit.