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Welfare handouts top £30,000 for thousands of homes

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David McNarry claimed some people would prefer to see the matter "dead and buried"

David McNarry claimed some people would prefer to see the matter "dead and buried"

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David McNarry claimed some people would prefer to see the matter "dead and buried"

More than 6,000 households across Northern Ireland are receiving benefits of more than £30,000 a year, it can be revealed.

In total they are picking up £203 million annually in State handouts, new figures have disclosed.

That's an average of £30,700 for each household - well above the £24,000 average salary in Northern Ireland.

A worker in full-time employment would need to be earning more than £40,000 before tax to take home the same amount.

The figures have prompted claims that the welfare system is encouraging households to opt for a life on benefits over work.

Ukip MLA David McNarry hit out at the level of spending. "I don't see how even the people themselves could justify this," he said.

Mr McNarry obtained the figures following an Assembly question to Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey.

The Belfast Telegraph has previously reported how 6,600 households receive more than the existing £26,000 limit imposed in England. However, Mr Storey's answer reveals their average handout is running significantly above this cap.

Mr Storey said: "At June/July 2014, it was identified that there were 6,600 working-age households receiving benefits (Social Security Agency benefits, housing benefit, child benefit and tax credits) in excess of £26,000 per annum in Northern Ireland.

"A household may include a single adult, or a married or cohabiting couple plus any of their dependent children.

"The total annual benefits being paid to these 6,600 households is estimated to be £203,500,000 (rounded to the nearest £100,000).

"The average annual benefit received by these households is estimated to be £30,700 (rounded to the nearest £100)."

Those receiving benefits do not pay tax or national insurance, which means a working person would have to earn £40,600 a year to receive the same, once tax has been deducted.

A geographical analysis of the 6,600 payments shows that the north west and west Belfast have some of the highest claims.

Mr McNarry said average payments of £31,000 were a disincentive to seek work.

"I accept that benefits are necessary to people in real need, but these kind of figures will turn off people," he added. "This will do nothing to convince the public about benefits, other than encouraging others to join the benefits club.

"People looking to get back into work will also say to themselves: 'Hang on a minute, I could get £31,000 for sitting at home'.

"I think the public will support benefits being paid to those in real need. But things have got out of hand when we hear that the average handout for some is nearly £31,000.

"You have £203m set aside for a specific 6,600 households - that needs an awful lot of understanding."

However, Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey accused Mr McNarry of attacking the most vulnerable in society.

"David McNarry's right-wing rant over the number of people claiming over £26,000 is an attempt to misinform the general public into believing that some of our most vulnerable are living in luxury on benefits," he said.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a cap on the upper limit of benefits households can receive, but that could soon change. The Prime Minister has pledged to cap benefits across the UK at £23,000 if the Conservatives win the next general election. Around 12,000 households in Northern Ireland are currently receiving more than that sum. However, not all would see their benefits cut if a cap was introduced, as some benefits, including war pensions and attendance allowance, don't count towards the cap.

The DUP insisted only 470 of the 6,600 households receiving above £26,000 would be at risk of losing out. MP Gregory Campbell said: "DUP MPs voted in favour of the benefits cap when it came before Parliament as we believe that the benefits system should not be used as an alternative to finding employment."

Belfast Telegraph