Northern Ireland's Disability Living Allowance bill soars to £1bn
The cost of Northern Ireland's Disability Living Allowance has risen by 25% in the last five years, new figures reveal.
Over £1 billion a year is now being spent on DLA.
That is up more than £200m from the 2011/12 figure of £800m.
The details were released by Communities Minister Paul Givan after enquiries from UUP MLA Andy Allen.
This summer the transition began from DLA to the new system of Personal Independence Payments (PIP). Figures on the uptake won't be available until next year.
Earlier this month the Department for Communities revealed that in August 2016, 214,260 people here were claiming DLA, 7,000 more than the previous year.
In the 12 months to April this year the total spend was £1,003,786,000.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell has previously said he's convinced the increasing figures show DLA fraud is on the rise.
Others like the charity Disability Action argue factors like higher levels of deprivation compared to the rest of the UK and increased awareness of the benefits available explain the increase.
Mr Allen said he wanted to get a baseline figure for social security benefits this year before the switch from DLA to PIP.
He said he feared the change would see those in genuine need penalised.
"From case work in my office, I detect a clear trend of people having awards decreased under PIP, but cannot say this definitely until the official figures are released," he said.
"I have also asked how many DLA applications were made, rejected, and granted each year since 2006, broken down by age and constituency."
He added: "I do have a concern that vulnerable, disabled people - genuine cases - may be penalised under the migration from DLA to PIP, and will be monitoring this issue closely in the months to come." SDLP communities spokeswoman and North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said more needed to be done to tackle the causes of ill-health in Northern Ireland.
"The rise in uptake of DLA is a result of a number of factors. Northern Ireland has higher levels of disability, including mental ill-health," she said.
"The Department for Communities has also invested significant effort in raising awareness and promoting benefit uptake to ensure people get the benefits they are entitled to.
"While it is understandable that attention would be drawn to these figures, they simply give us a snapshot of the effects of having higher levels of disability here.
"Much more attention should be given to tackling the causes of ill-health and reducing the growing health inequalities in our society."
In total, more than £5bn in social security benefits was paid out in Northern Ireland in 2015/16 (£5,764,8484), £700m more than in 2011/12.
The top expense remained the retirement pension at over £2bn, an increase of £366m since 2011/12.