DLA fraud on rise, suggests DUP MP as number of claimants soars
Questions have been raised after it was revealed that the number of people claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) here has soared again - even though Northern Ireland already had the highest proportion of claimants in the UK.
Statistics published by Stormont revealed that the number of DLA recipients here was now 212,210 - up 6,600 from May 2015 to May 2016.
Of these, 49% were male and 51% female. The number of men was up by 3,490 and females by 3,110 in the last year.
The overall figure has steadily risen every year, from 184,860 in 2011. It means that in a population of 1.8 million, more than one in nine is now receiving the disability benefit. This compares to just over one in 20 in Britain.
The latest figures from the Department of Communities do not break down claimants by area, but last year west Belfast had a higher proportion than anywhere else in Northern Ireland - with one in five people claiming the benefit.
DLA is a tax-free benefit for disabled children and adults to help with extra costs they may face because they are disabled. Claimants are often examined by a doctor before they gain the benefit, and if they require a carer, that person may be entitled to claim Carer's Allowance or Carer's Credit.
The number of Carer's Allowance claimants has also risen over the last year, to 71,220. This represents an increase of 2,050 since May 2015.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the increase on already high numbers of DLA claimants in Northern Ireland would be questioned and examined at both Stormont and Westminster.
"Questions need to be asked about this, not just because of an increase again in the total but because there is no uniformity," he said. "When numbers go up, normally what happens at Westminster is different MPs and civil servants will seek to establish if every region has gone up by a similar degree.
"If it hasn't - and I think in Northern Ireland this is definitely the case - that does call into question the differentiation between those who are genuinely entitled to the benefit and should continue to get the help they need, and those who are not as genuine and who are, for whatever reason, able to get a benefit that strictly speaking they should not.
"If you get to the point - which we are at in some areas - where almost 20% of the eligible population is claiming DLA when the comparable figure in England and Wales is 10%, then that is an issue."
Mr Campbell said any explanation that higher figures in Northern Ireland can be explained by the impact of the Troubles was no longer valid.
"I don't think it can seriously be argued some 20 years after the ceasefires that new claimants coming were in any way affected by the Troubles," he added.
"I think there will be questions asked about this both at Stormont and Westminster."
Some of the other figures released yesterday included a decrease in the number of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants. It was 35,560, down 5,590 over the year up to May 2016. There was also a small fall of 380 in the number of Income Support claimants, down to 38,640.
More people are in receipt of the state pension - up to 307,550, an increase of 1,180.