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Shock over £75m benefits paid to addicts and obese

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 29/02/2016

The weekly bill has risen to £1,440,000 - up 12.8% compared to 15 months previously, government statistics show
The weekly bill has risen to £1,440,000 - up 12.8% compared to 15 months previously, government statistics show

The cost of providing benefits to people who are grossly overweight or drink and drug addicts has spiralled to £75m, it can be revealed.

Up to 13,500 are off work because they are obese or battling addiction.

The weekly bill has risen to £1,440,000 - up 12.8% compared to 15 months previously, government statistics show.

That is a total cost to the taxpayer of £74.9m annually.

Last week it was revealed the number of people drawing disability benefits in Northern Ireland has hit an all-time high of 208,760.

A government-ordered review is currently examining the support given to addicts and obese people on sickness benefits. It could see claimants stripped of benefits if they refuse treatment.

Neil Wilson from the NI Conservatives said the figures were shocking, accusing society of simply "parking" people on a life of handouts.

"Taxpayers will be shocked to find that £75m a year is currently spent on benefits for those suffering from addiction of one form or another here, without the recipients being in any way obliged to get treatment," he said.

Statistics from the Department for Social Development show a total of 13,530 claimants drawing benefits for either obesity or addiction as of November 2015.

Mr Wilson said the spiralling cost of funding addicts' benefits underlines why the system is in need of reform.

"Addiction sufferers and taxpayers deserve better," he said.

"Rather than parking people on benefits, with no hope of ever moving off them, welfare reforms give addiction sufferers the help they need to get back into work, with Universal Credit ensuring they're better off for seeking treatment, and better off for working."

However, an addiction specialist said many cases were linked to severe mental health issues.

Dr George O'Neill from Addiction NI said: "There is quite often a dual diagnosis - there is a mental health problem and an alcohol and drug problem.

"It is one of the problems that goes hand in hand with the high rate of DLA we have here.

"The history of the Troubles has also made our need in relation to mental health problems much greater than any other part of the UK. We are doubly disadvantaged in that, historically, mental health services have always been under-funded, compared to the rest of the UK.

"We have a 30% greater need, and we have a similar deficit in funding."

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