Simon Bridges said today he agrees with Government's approach to increasing benefits. However, he said the bigger focus should be on getting people into work.
The National Party leader told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning the Government had "given up" on getting people into work, citing 27,000 more people on job seeker benefits compared to when National was in Government.
On Monday, the Government announced benefits were set to rise by 3.1 per cent this April, with an increase of $10 on the way for some beneficiaries.
"I agree with what the Government's done, actually, where they've effectively indexed it to wages, so that is some increase," Mr Bridges said.
"It seems to me a bigger priority should be there's 27,000 more people on the dole or what they call job seekers support now. We should be working really hard to get them into work. I think the Government's given up on doing that. I think that's incredibly important. I think that's where the focus should be.
"Ultimately there is no path that's sure, it seems to me, to getting into a good situation, a better situation than getting into a job first. At minimum wage, no one is arguing that that is somehow going to put you in an amazing position but it is a better position from which to start so I think that should be the focus."
Mr Bridges also criticised the Government for high rent prices and soaring petrol taxes leading to what he called the working poor.
"All of these things mean that it's harder daily for people and we need to do something significant there," he said.
"The single worst thing Government's done is that rent increase, $55 I think it is a week, and so you've got to be very careful what you wish for and very careful about regulations that landlords simply pass the cost on to the renter who are the poorest people we've been talking about."
He was referring to the Government's healthy homes initiative, announced last February, which created a higher standard of requirements for residential rental property owners to meet in order to ensure New Zealanders are able to live in warm, dry homes.
"Ultimately, we need what National has been talking about, which is that stronger economy where people have more money in their pocket," Mr Bridges said today. "There's no magic bullet, but to me it is tax relief, it is infrastructure and doing that, it's getting rid of red tape, it's all these things that make a better stronger society."
Mr Bridges said he felt strongly about incentivising people getting into work, but when it comes to minimum wage increases there was a balance because too high was not good for small businesses who are giving up on getting people into jobs.
While speaking on Breakfast last week, the Opposition Leader said National wouldn't rule out Labour's minimum wage increase, set to be $20 per hour in April 2021, if his party regains power after the September election.
"I want to get people into work, but it's much better than languishing on the dole," he said today.