The number of people drawing Disability Living Allowance in Northern Ireland has hit an all-time high, official figures have revealed.
One person in every nine is now receiving the benefit. In some areas as many as one in six is on DLA, helping to drive a near £1bn annual bill.
The number of DLA recipients as of February this year was 210,260. This has risen by 6,470 since February 2015.
It means that in a population of 1.8m, more than one in nine are now receiving the disability benefit.
This is compared to just over one in 20 in Britain.
A further breakdown across the country shows there are 40,950 claimants in the city of Belfast – nearly 15% of the eligible population.
In Derry, there are 15,990 claimants and 12,550 in Lisburn.
A breakdown by Assembly constituency shows West Belfast has the highest number with 19,340 recipients followed by 16,530 in North Belfast. West of the Bann, there were 15,270 in the Foyle area.
DLA is there to help people cope with the additional costs of their illness and levels of disability, and is worth between £21 and £81 a week.
And while the impact of the Troubles is often cited as a reason for our heavy reliance on benefits, the claimant count has surged by 70% since the Good Friday Agreement.
It has previously led to accusations that our benefits system has become unjustifiable and unsustainable.
The system is due to change under welfare reforms with DLA replaced by Personal Independence Payments (Pips).
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said the increase in DLA recipients is likely to be “short-lived”.
“There is no doubt that much of Northern Ireland’s high rate of poor mental health is connected to 30 years of terrorist violence, and would account for some of the higher numbers of DLA and ESA claimants in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“For instance, I am personally aware of a number of former members of the security forces who were simply doing their duty but who now are forced to regularly relive the trauma that so many of them experienced.
“We must maintain a social security system that looks after the low paid, the sick and the disabled.
“This recent increase is likely to be short-lived given its imminent replacement by a Personal Independence Payment, which has been seen to be more difficult to qualify for.”
SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said: “Clearly the number of new benefit claimants is a matter of concern both for those now incapable of work and for their families. It’s critical that we provide as much support as possible for those who want to work but now find themselves unable to through disability or long-term sickness.
“There’s a real fear that the pressure building on the system as a result of welfare cuts, compounded by an increase in claimants, will result in negative outcomes for the most vulnerable.”
Number of DLA recipients as of February this year. This means that in a population of 1.8m people, more than one in nine is now receiving the disability payment
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