Reform welfare for right reasons
Published 08/10/2012 | 08:00
Ideally benefits should only be paid to those who are incapable of work through age or infirmity or who simply, in spite of their best efforts, are unable to find employment at a time of recession. But, of course, there will always be those who are claiming benefits almost as a way of life. It is those people who Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland will highlight today when the Assembly meets to discuss wide-ranging welfare reforms.
He will reveal that some families are generational claimants, that each generation regards receipt of benefits as others might regard wages. It is not simply that they don't want to work, but they don't feel that they should.
They feel a sense of entitlement to benefits but no sense of obligation to earn a living. Taxpayers who fund the benefits system will share Mr McCausland's sense of outrage at this band of claimants who they regard as spongers.
Yet, while there is undoubtedly abuse of the system, it is right that Stormont reviews the new welfare legislation - including the introduction of a universal credit to replace some of the most important benefits - with the utmost care.
The reforms have come in for criticism because there are genuine fears that the money could go to individuals not used to budgeting and that money for housekeeping and rent might not be used sensibly. This could lead to chaos.
Another concern is that Northern Ireland's high dependency on benefits means that claimants here will be hit hardest by the reforms.
For example, the province has a much higher rate of Disability Living Allowance uptake and those claimants could be hit hard by the reforms.
While the stated overall aim of the reforms - to target those in most need and make the system easier and cheaper to administer - are undeniable, there remains the suspicion that the real intention is to cut the overall level of claims, irrespective of who suffers.