A DUP MP has called for a “rational debate” on why the number of people receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is still continuing to rise, long after the worst of the Troubles has subsided.
Gregory Campbell said that it is a hard conversation to have in public because “siren voices” often weigh in to the issue, and some people believe that DLA recipients as individuals are being placed under fire.
He was speaking after the News Letter revealed this week that the number of people receiving DLA had increased by more than 7,000 in the year up to August.
The number of people receiving the benefit has been rising steadily since 1996.
Last year, the News Letter reported that 2014/15 bill for DLA was about £956m.
However, the 2015/16 bill surpassed the £1bn mark.
The news of the latest increase in DLA recipients – revealed on Wednesday by the Department for Communities – meant 214,260 people were getting it in August.
The continued growth comes despite the fact that the department had already begun moves to close down the number of people who can access the benefit.
As of June 20, the government had begun the process of introducing Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) in place of DLA.
Since then, working-age people have not been able to claim DLA, and must claim PIPs – which rely on a type of periodic review process which claimants of DLA did not undergo.
The effects of the Troubles have been cited previously for the high rate of claims in Northern Ireland – a rate which is roughly twice the comparable figures on mainland UK.
Mr Campbell: “I think there needs to be a sensible and rational debate about what are the underlying reasons for the continual rise in the number of claimants in recent years, 20 years after the Troubles have ended.
“And why, in pockets of Northern Ireland, there is an extraordinarily high claimant rate – we need to have a sensible discussion about why that is.”
He also said: “It is a difficult point to get airtime, because of the sort of siren voices that appear on this issue... It’s not a case of trying to target claimants per se.
“It’s a case of trying to get sufficiently robust rationale to explain why extraordinarily high claimant rate in a very small number of areas.”
The figures on Wednesday showed big variations within the Province, with 16.1% of the eligible population in the old Strabane council district getting DLA, against 8.5% in the old Ballymena council area.