While the amount we paid to New Zealanders in financial assistance in 2020/21, at just over $30 billion, was lower than in 2019/20 ($37 billion), it was still well above the historical level of around $20 billion. The 2020/21 figure includes $1.7 billion paid under COVID-19-related assistance programmes
We expected COVID-19 to precipitate a significant and long-lasting increase in benefit numbers. Although this expected increase did eventuate, it was less significant than was being forecast as the 2020/21 year began. The number of Jobseeker Support recipients rose from 152,000 in June 2020 to a peak of just over 213,000 in January 2021 before falling back to around 152,000 in June 2021 – almost exactly the same as the June 2020 figure.
Successive forecasts made during the year
lowered the expected peak for benefit numbers (from 10.4 percent of the working-age population in January 2021
to 7.1 percent in January 2022
). While current forecasts suggest that overall working-age benefit numbers will continue to increase over 2021, they should slowly fall back thereafter as the economy recovers and border restrictions are lifted.
We expect an ongoing increase in the diversity and needs of our clients in the future. While benefit numbers are likely to fall as the economy recovers, those who will still require our support are likely to have more complex needs than ever before. We will need to ensure we have systems and processes that are fit for this expected environment.