Belfast Telegraph

If you don't rigorously assess claimants, how can you tell who's ripping off taxpayers?

By David Vance

As the Stormont Government lurches from crisis to crisis over its systemic failure to introduce Welfare reform, it's worth considering what is happening in one crucial area of welfare - Disability Living Allowance.

Remarkably, the number of people receiving disability living benefit in Northern Ireland has soared to more than 200,000 in the past year.

That's an incredible one in every nine people here now pocketing this welfare benefit.

By way of contrast, around one in 20 people receive it in the rest of the UK. The next closest to us is Wales, but even there it is one in 12.

So why is it that Northern Ireland shows such sustained growth in DLA claims? Have we a population that is really twice as unhealthy as that in England? Why are the numbers of people receiving this benefit rising here when they are falling elsewhere in the UK?

The Westminster Government has made a determined effort in the past few years to assess all individuals receiving this benefit.

It became apparent in 2012 that only 6% of new DLA claimants had a face to face assessment with a health professional. Some 55% of people received the benefit by simply filling in a form. Here in Northern Ireland, in 2015, 100% of people receive DLA without any form of face to face assessment. See the problem?

There has also been a recognition that the DLA system is open to manipulation and fraud and that it is important to those who genuinely require assistance in this area that such abuse is exposed.

But if you do not rigorously assess people seeking to claim this benefit then how on earth can you detect those who are ripping the taxpayer off?

Sinn Fein refuses to countenance any changes to welfare, including DLA. Why might this be?

A closer look at the figures for Northern Ireland shows that 18,230 people in West Belfast receive DLA - the highest in any area in Northern Ireland. The other hotspots for DLA claims are North Belfast 15,870; Foyle 14,580, and 12,950 in Newry and Armagh.

Remarkably, those areas that see soaring rates of DLA claims also seem to show strong support for Sinn Fein. By way of contrast, the DLA claim rate in East Belfast is half that of West Belfast.

Are people in the west of the city twice as unhealthy as people in the east?

A civilised society wants to ensure it has the requisite financial resources to take care of our most vulnerable. However, by extending the tendrils of welfare dependency deeper and deeper, and by refusing to put in place detailed medical assessment of all claimants, the budget grows bigger and bigger without any sort of restraint on it.

This is not only reckless but also unsustainable.

In other parts of the UK we see political responsibility being exercised as DLA claims are carefully examined.

But in Northern Ireland the Stormont Government provides an open chequebook approach and then cries foul when it is held accountable for the financial mess it has created.

The truth is, we have a disabled political process manifest in the growth industry of Disability Living benefits.

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

Belfast Telegraph


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