Belfast Telegraph

Paterson in welfare reforms pledge

Allowing greater flexibility in welfare reform in Northern Ireland could include recognising differences in housing arrangements and taxation, Owen Paterson has said.

The Northern Ireland Secretary promised the UK Government was prepared to do whatever it can to accommodate specific requests from Stormont's executive.

Mr Paterson said: "There will however be areas where the executive will want local flexibility to suit local circumstances. These could include recognising different housing arrangements here and most obviously taking account of the fact that council tax does not apply in Northern Ireland."

Domestic rates imposed by the Stormont Executive and local councils cover some of the same functions as council tax.

Mr Paterson added: "So the NIO and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will continue to work closely and constructively with the Department for Social Development."

The assembly has rejected an SDLP motion calling on the executive to make opposition to welfare reforms its highest priority. The Westminster Government has fought a long battle in the House of Lords on welfare reform and suffered several defeats. The proposals include capping benefits at £26,000 a year per household.

Mr Paterson said: "That is the equivalent of a gross salary of £35,000 at a time when here in Northern Ireland the median full-time public sector salary is nearly £29,000 and in the private sector it is just over £20,000. It is simply not fair that households on out-of-work benefits should receive a greater income from the state than the average working household receives in wages."

He said there was a moral imperative in reform because people in work tended to live longer and were better able to provide for their children.

Around 22% of those who would be expected to seek jobs are not doing so because they preferred claiming benefits or were more focused on home, research for DWP showed. At present some claimants face losing as much as 96p in every pound they earn through tax and benefit withdrawals.

Mr Paterson said: "To me this points to a system that is failing and which in far too many cases discourages work and simply parks people on benefits. There is nothing remotely fair, moral or progressive about any of this. It is bad for benefit recipients, bad for communities and bad for society as a whole."

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