Belfast Telegraph

This sends out the message that being on welfare pays

By David Vance

The purpose of welfare reform is to make sure that it always pays more for people to go out and work than to sit at home and count their benefits.

In doing so, we rebalance the economy and make Northern Ireland a more prosperous place for everyone.

Elsewhere in the UK this has been accepted as a reasonable and rational response in times of austerity.

But Northern Ireland remains the one part of the UK that to date has baulked at this idea and instead our politicians compete for who will provide the maximum in welfare benefits to "the vulnerable" and "most disadvantaged".

Most recently, Stormont was thrown into crisis when Sinn Fein demanded that whatever the reforms to the benefit system, no one should be financially worse off as a result. But who exactly is benefiting from welfare and to what scale?

Consider this simple fact. The average income for a working person in Northern Ireland is £24,000.

Each day, tens of thousands of people get out of their beds and go out to work so they can provide for their families, and they selflessly put in the hours required.

These people are the real heroes of our economy, but some politicians seem much more concerned about those who do not work.

The latest information provided by the Minister for Social Development, Mervyn Storey, reveals that the 10 highest benefits claimants in Northern Ireland received £567,000 a year, or £56,700 each. That's 250% more than the average salary of a working person. Does that sound reasonable to you?

In one case, a household is in receipt of £64,000 benefits. That's the equivalent of a salary of around £100,000 per annum. Does that sound like disadvantage to you?

Is this Sinn Fein's idea of fairness?

Why should those who do not work be in receipt of such colossal amounts of welfare benefit?

How can we encourage more people to go out and work when they can see such families sitting back and getting such massive unearned incomes for doing absolutely nothing?

Examining the figures in more detail, it is clear that some of those receiving these astronomical benefits often have large families.

That is their choice, of course, but why should the taxpayer fund their fecundity? If you can't afford children, don't have them.

It's also worth reflecting that more than 6,000 households across Northern Ireland are receiving benefits of more than £30,000 a year.

Again, we are paying people in benefits much more than the typical worker earns. How can this be right? Doesn't this send the signal that being on benefits pays?

For an unemployed household to be receiving the equivalent of a salary of almost £100,000 in benefits is simply outrageous and an affront to all who work for a living.

The truth is that welfare has become a lifestyle of choice for a section of society here and it must end.

Our economy will only prosper when we send the signal that work pays and welfare safety nets do not become £100,000 comfort blankets.

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

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