PEOPLE in the prime of their working lives make up the largest share of those on unemployment benefits, a trend unions and social services groups say reflects greater insecurities at work.

While older workers face a greater risk of long-term unemployment, official figures show those aged 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 are the two biggest groups to receive Newstart payments. Between them, these two groups account for nearly half of all Newstart recipients. The next largest group of Newstart recipients are aged between 45 and 54.

The chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, Cassandra Goldie, said the extent of Newstart payments to people in their 30s and 40s was affected by the growing prevalence of irregular and casual work, which was being experienced by workers of all ages.

 Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service.

On the casual... Cassandra Goldie says there is growing prevelance for irregular work among people in their 30s and 40s. Photo: Supplied

''The idea that there's a job for life is no longer the reality in Australia,'' Dr Goldie said. ''People can lose their job and this can happen in the prime of your working life, and then it becomes really hard. Often there's a need to retrain … and if you don't have the financial resources to do that you can get really stuck.''

This week government payments to some single parents were cut by $115 a week, as part of a group of cuts affecting tens of thousands of people.

The Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin, sparked an outcry when she claimed she could live on the $35-a-day Newstart allowance. The comment was later omitted from the transcript of the press conference where she made the remarks.

The president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Ged Kearney, said there were anecdotal reports of many people who had finished studying or training struggling to find full-time work, leading to a cycle of casual or irregular employment.

''What we've seen is people are caught in short-term work or casual labour, '' she said. ''This certainly is a story we're hearing from a lot of people in their late 20s and 30s.''

Although people in their prime working years account for the highest share of Newstart benefits, those over 55 have a higher risk of long-term unemployment - being jobless for a year or more.