Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni is rubbishing the opposition's claims that government softness on sanctions is to blame for 11,000 more people receiving the Jobseeker Support benefit.
Sepuloni says overall benefit numbers were stable and only 0.1-percent higher than last year.
"We haven't changed the rules as to why we might sanction someone. What we have done is change the process to make sure we make the right decision when we do decide to suspend or cancel benefits."
Ministry of Social Development figures show 135,000 people were receiving job seeker support at the end of December. In the same month 8,500 sanctions were applied- 6,000 less than the year prior.
Sepuloni says, "We've changed the way in which we do cancellations and suspensions, not in terms of the actual rules as to why you might cancel or suspend a benefit but to ensure we've got a process in place where an authorised person has to sign off before that cancellation or that suspension is imposed."
Sepuloni says many factors, including population growth, could be contributors to the increase of those on a job seeker benefit.
"...People who are finishing up studying needing interim support until the academic year starts the following year or have completed studying and are looking for work. That's always a factor at this particular time of year but in terms of the overall picture it is really hard to put one answer on that."
The unemployment rate remains at 3.9-percent- the lowest in a decade.