The number of people here in receipt of Disability Living Allowance is staggering, with claimants accounting for one in 10 of the population.
It is tempting to suggest that something is radically amiss since the percentage is greatly out of kilter with other areas of the UK. And no doubt the Government will be anxious to bring down the total number of claims when benefit reforms are rolled out. The mood music is always that Northern Ireland is somehow benefiting unduly from the system.
Yet it has to be remembered that mental ill-health and trauma are unwelcome legacies of the not-so-distant Troubles and that many of the claimants live in areas of deprivation. There is a proven correlation between deprivation and the sort of illnesses and conditions which entitle people to this benefit. These are also areas of quite high population density which naturally would lead to a high level of claim.
That is not to say the Government should not scrutinise all claims thoroughly. It is evident, even with our small population, that paying out what can be relatively generous benefits to one in 10 is not sustainable in this climate of austerity. And there will be many who will question the payment of benefits to 3,500 people who are classified as suffering from alcohol abuse. Surely it would make more sense to provide at least some of that money towards helping them beat their addiction rather than giving them the funding to feed it.
There is also a wider issue. The high level of claims here can easily create a benefits dependency, rather than encouraging more people into work. There is a low-wage culture here which discourages many people on benefits from seeking employment.
What we need is more investment of the type provided by planemaker Bombardier which encourages high-value design work alongside production line activity. Fruits of that investment are now almost ready to take to the air. If benefits are to be clamped down on, then worthwhile jobs should provide an enticing alternative.