What reports has she received on the latest benefit numbers?
The March numbers have been released today. There are now 331,529 people receiving a benefit. The number fell by 12,531 during March, and was down 3.6 percent on the February figure. Most of that decrease was because of students going back, but the number on the general unemployment benefit dropped by 4,368, as well. Although it is encouraging to see another drop in benefit numbers, I caution against getting too optimistic on the basis of these figures.
Yes. Reports indicate that young people are beginning to move off the unemployment benefit faster than the overall reduction in the number of people on the unemployment benefit. The number of young people on it decreased by 4 percent in the year ended March, and is now 8,398, a fall of nearly 2,000. Although 4 percent may not seem like much after increases of 66 percent and 187 percent in the previous 2 years, it is positive to see that fall.
The Government is paying twice as many special needs grants as it did in 2008. In March 2008, $3.7 million was spent on special needs grants; in March 2011, $7.2 million was spent. The amount of benefit advances in March was up by about 30 percent. In March 2008, $7.9 million was spent on advances and forwarded, and in March 2011 it was $12.2 million. Although some might think that number is too high and we should not be giving those grants, I think it proves that the help is there when people need it.
Can she confirm that unemployment benefit numbers showed almost the same drop at this period last year as the latest figures show, but then continued to climb throughout 2010, and can she guarantee that will not be the pattern in 2011?
As indicated, the March fall was expected, as we are seeing students go back and we are also seeing the usual decrease due to seasonal work. What I have indicated is that in previous years we have seen a dramatic increase, but in the last 12 months we have seen the figures actually go down slightly. I am hoping we have slowed the flow.