Ukip fury at Northern Ireland families on £23,000 welfare benefits: 'Sift out unemployable hangers-on', says MLA
Right-wing unionists say we can't afford benefits bill for 12,000 households
Right-wing politicians have reacted with anger after it emerged that 12,000 households in Northern Ireland are receiving more than £23,000 in welfare handouts - the new benefits cap being proposed by David Cameron.
Already, 6,600 households here receive more than the existing cap in England of £26,000 - the equivalent of a pre-tax salary of £34,000.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a benefits cap, although that could change.
The Assembly is preparing to debate the detail of welfare reforms agreed under the Stormont House Agreement, which ended an almost two-year stalemate between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
The news that 12,000 households are being handed the equivalent of a £29,300 pre-tax salary has sparked fury at Stormont.
Ukip MLA David McNarry said: "What we have in Northern Ireland are more hangers-on than there are in any other part of the United Kingdom, and we can't afford them.
"We are talking about over 12,000 people in this lowest category. What we need to do is sift out those who have made themselves unemployable.
"It's unbalanced social engineering," he said.
"I have talked to young couples and they have been brought up to be willing and proud to go to work.
"It's a bad example for them to hear or see anyone arguing that if you 'swing the lead' you will get your rent paid, you will get your mortgage paid in part and you can lie in bed all day."
Mr McNarry added: "We simply cannot afford it and Northern Ireland should not be classified as having a different tax welfare cap than any other part of the UK."
Legislation underpinning welfare reform is due to be debated on February 10 - although there will be a 'cushion' built in for claimants after MLAs argued Northern Ireland is a special case.
Northern Ireland has a high proportion of people who claim incapacity benefit, job sxeeker's allowance, housing benefit and tax credits. But despite the level of higher handouts, a Stormont source suggested only 470 households here would lose out with a £26,000 cap.
This is because high numbers claim benefits exempt from the cap, such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or working tax credits. The new figures were revealed after inquiries by TUV leader Jim Allister. He said Stormont's welfare deal is "going to continue to keep (claimants) at the standard to which they've become accustomed on public handouts".
He added: "We will do that, it seems, in perpetuity. How many millions, therefore, into the future is that? Who knows? If the cap in GB drops to £23,000, as is anticipated, at current figures, we will sustain undiluted benefits to 12,000 families.
"How will we pay for it?
"Well, quite clearly there is no new money from Westminster to pay for it, so it has to come out of the money for health, education, roads and everything in the block grant."
The Prime Minister has proposed dropping the present cap to help pay for more apprenticeships that would get people into employment.
DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton argued: "Whilst I have long accepted that we need to implement welfare reform in Northern Ireland, we always agreed, as a party, that it needed to be changed to reflect Northern Ireland's particular needs."
The Stormont House Agreement reached just before December promised legislation "to give effect to welfare changes" would be brought before the Assembly during this month.
Now details of the deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein are expected to be by Social Development Minister Mervyn Story on Tuesday, February 10.