What reports has he received on the number of people on benefits?
The latest quarterly figures prepared by the Ministry of Social Development show that in the year to September 2005 the number of working-age New Zealanders on benefits dropped by a further 16,000, or 5 percent. There are 83,000, or 22 percent, fewer New Zealanders receiving assistance than there were in 1999.
Given yet another remarkable result, my supplementary question asks: does the Government have an estimate of the value of moving so many people from benefits into work?
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You may be tolerant of new members starting questions like that, but this is not a new member and it should not be encouraged, or even allowed. One would hope, Madam Speaker, that you might ask the member to refrain in future from those sorts of comments. Further, I might add that we have noticed those sorts of comments coming through from answers today that have gone largely unchecked as well.
I thank the member for his comments. He is quite right. I direct his comments also to all members in the House. I ask members just to stick to the question.
For each individual in the workforce, of course, the value to his or her self-esteem and sense of worth is immeasurable. Additionally, though, it is important to note that moving 83,000 New Zealanders into work amounts to a saving of at least $14 million per week. The reduction in expenditure, therefore, between 2003 and 2005 alone totals some $3.3 billion.
When does he expect a decrease in the sickness and invalids beneficiary numbers, which, despite the glowing reports he has just given us, have continued to soar under his Government?
There is no disguising what has been phenomenal success overall. Under this Government, 301,000 more New Zealanders are in jobs. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the OECD, and the total number of working-age New Zealanders on benefits is, as I said, 22 percent lower. It is true that there has been a slight increase in sickness beneficiaries, but the suggestion of the questioner does not hold water. Unemployment has decreased by 98,600. That is four times the net increase in sickness beneficiaries.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister has to address the question. The question asked when he expected a similar decrease in the numbers of sickness and invalids beneficiaries. We have just had an absolutely angry response from the Minister—he was angry that I have dared to ask this question. He has not actually addressed it. I ask him to address the situation of sickness and invalids benefits, and when we might see and expect a decrease.
I thank the member. The Minister, in his answer to the question, did address the question of sickness benefits. It was obviously not to the satisfaction of the member, but she has an opportunity to ask another supplementary question.
The sickness and invalids benefits, it is true to say, grew at a rate of 69 percent and 84 percent respectively under the National Government. That is not to mention the unemployment rate, which climbed by 11 percent. In the latest year to September, the growth rate of the sickness benefit fell from 8 percent to 4 percent. We are getting on top of a trend that was clearly out of control under National.