The number of people claiming Newstart has increased in about 10% of areas across the country despite a national improvement, with remote Indigenous communities among the hardest hit.
Figures released by the Coalition on Sunday showed 42,000 fewer people were receiving Newstart and Youth Allowance in 2018-19 compared to the year before, equivalent to a drop of 5%, with the government using the figures to push back against calls to lift the benefit.
But the data, obtained by Guardian Australia, shows that the results are patchy across the country.
In about 10% of geographic areas the number of people claiming the benefit has increased, with remote unemployment hotspots among those getting worse in the past year.
In the Northern Territory, Palmerston recorded a more than 20% increase in the number of people claiming Newstart or Youth Allowance, jumping from 1,119 to 1,366 individuals – an increase of 247.
In the outback NT communities of Katherine and Barkly there was a more than 16% spike in the number of people on benefits, while the Darwin suburbs, Litchfield and East Arnhem Land all recorded an increase of more than 3%.
In outback South Australia, which includes the remote Indigenous communities of the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, more than 2,000 people are claiming Newstart or Youth Allowance, with the number up about 5% year on year.
Other communities showing a spike included Jimboomba and Beaudesert, south of Brisbane, up 5.2% and 4.5% respectively.
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The strongest performing areas where the number of welfare recipients was significantly down included East Canberra (-48%), and Brunswick, Manningham, Stonnington and Darebin – all in suburban Melbourne – which all recorded a drop of more than 16%.
In Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, where the government is trialling the cashless debit card that quarantines welfare payments, the figure had dropped by about 10%.
The social services minister, Anne Ruston, said the figures, provided to the News Corp Sunday papers, showed the government’s job-creating policies were working.
“If you are unemployed and you’re on Newstart, we will do everything that we possibly can to get you off Newstart and into a job,” Ruston said.
“With the introduction of the cashless debit card for young people who are on welfare, we have seen a 10% decrease in unemployment of youth up there,” she said.
Labor’s shadow minister for families and social services, Linda Burney, pointed to government data which shows there are 19 applicants on average for every job.
“The Liberals and Nationals are out of touch with how hard it is to get a decent job – and the economy simply isn’t delivering for working Australians,” she said.
The release of the figures comes as the government pushes back against growing calls for the Newstart payment of about $275 a week to be lifted, and after a Guardian Essential poll found overwhelming support among voters for a boost.
Welfare and business groups, with backing from the Greens and Labor, have been calling for the rate of Newstart to be lifted, but the prime minister, Scott Morrison, has ruled it out, saying his focus is on finding jobs for the unemployed.