Editor's Viewpoint: Time to get tough on benefit spongers
There is no doubt that there is a great dependency culture in Northern Ireland with some £4.2bn paid out annually on benefits of various kinds as well as state pensions.
There is equally little doubt that Works and Pensions Secretary at Westminster, Iain Duncan-Smith and Chancellor George Osborne will attempt to reduce that yearly bill in the very near future as part of an overhaul of the benefits system. One benefit which will be particularly in their sights is the Disability Living Allowance.
Here 184,000 people claim the benefit - a staggering one in 10 of the population - at a cost of around £2m a day. In west Belfast the figure rises to a scarcely credible one in five of the population with north Belfast not far behind. It has to be admitted that both were cockpits of violence during nearly four decades of the Troubles and that is bound to manifest itself in a higher than average disability count given the resulting physical and mental scars.
Yet a hard, cold look at the facts shows that our average DLA claimant ratio is twice than in the rest of the UK and the Government is determined to drive the figure there down. So it follows that ministers will take a lot of convincing that Northern Ireland is a special case on the scale shown by the statistics. There are suspicions that although the benefit is paid on the basis of medical opinion, a significant number of claimants are managing to hoodwink examiners or otherwise get passed as medically disabled.
It is obvious that the Department for Social Development which administers benefits here must have an urgent and searching look at the level of all claims here.
As well it must also become more efficient in ensuring that people properly entitled to benefits get them and that spongers are uncovered and deprived of their undeserved income. Only then can the Department plead with Westminster for special consideration of our higher levels of deprivation and demand that any cuts in the benefit budget are fair and proportionate.