Belfast Telegraph

Work definitely does not pay in what has become new Athens of the North

By David Vance

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the benefits bill just keeps on rising.

This may surprise some given the rhetoric from some political parties who wring their hands and bemoan the "savage cuts" in welfare.

The fact is that there have been no cuts, savage or otherwise, in our overall welfare bill, and instead it has shot up by 3.2% on the previous year.

Austerity? What austerity?

New figures show that the single biggest element in welfare (excluding pensions) - the Disability Living Allowance - has grown by a further 3.6% in the most recent year, and since 2010 it has jumped by 22%.

This may not be surprising when we consider that parts of Northern Ireland - such as west Belfast - have 20% of their population enjoying the splendour of this unearned cash.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) - that which replaced Incapacity Benefit - has rocketed up by an unbelievable 39% in the last year.

This massive increase in claimants here in Northern Ireland contrasts with a fall in claimants elsewhere in the UK.

The difference, as I have pointed out previously, is that elsewhere in the UK those seeking to claim this benefit are actually faced with an automatic face-to-face medical assessment with a healthcare professional to decide if they satisfy the limited capability for work assessment.

In Northern Ireland the benefit can be claimed without an automatic face-to-face with any medical professional - completing a form may do the job and some appear to excel at this form of work.

Looking at Jobseeker's Allowance, we see a slight fall - it is down by 2.5% on the previous year. However, since the numbers of people in work has increased by some 23% over the past five years, the mystery remains as to why those claiming the benefit have stayed more or less the same.

There is a significant section of the population here who have concluded that they do not need to try and find a job because they have found much more lucrative benefits.

Stormont presides over a system that ensures that work does not pay.

That is the central problem the Executive has failed to grasp and it explains why the rhetoric of austerity is not matched anywhere in the actual figures.

This is not the sign of a healthy society. Nor is it a sign that we are even looking after "the most vulnerable".

Relentless growth of DLA and ESA benefit shows that politicians are content to allow a section of society to feed off our taxes.

Is this fair to the people who do go out to work and who strive to take care of their families?

Denying financial reality and refusing to live within budgets will not create a paradise.

Instead it makes Northern Ireland more akin to Greece - the new bankrupt Athens of the North.

  • David Vance is a political commentator and editor of 'A Tangled Web' blog

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