Northern Ireland’s DLA bill is now grossly bloated

Morning View
Morning View

Last week most people in Northern Ireland, including this newspaper, were welcoming the agreement to secure devolution at Stormont.

The Executive has proved surprisingly resilient since 2007 when two parties bitterly opposed to each other, the DUP and Sinn Fein, took power together.

Despite regular turbulence, they have somehow managed to work in some sort of proximity for almost nine years.

But this has partly been achieved by ducking difficult issues.

One of those issues is welfare reform. And no aspect of welfare shows the welfare dependency problem in Northern Ireland more starkly than Disability Living Allowance.

The News Letter revealed last month that 207,000 people in the Province are on DLA, an extraordinary 11 per cent of the entire population.

That statistic was confirmed yesterday.

This is up by more than one per cent since 2010. The annual cost has risen by £203 million over that period.

The number of claimants was already twice as high as Great Britain pro rata, where there was cross-party agreement that the figure was too high.

But there is no such agreement here. Indeed, barely any party at Stormont has had much to say about this scandalous waste of money.

Do not listen for a moment to anyone who says that criticising DLA is an attack on disabled people. If DLA was restricted to, for example, the most disabled four per cent of the population it would be possible to double payments to each recipient and still save taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

It is clear that the test for DLA or its replacement needs to be markedly more robust. Dubious claims must be rejected.
That, presumably, is what is now going to happen with Westminster taking control of welfare.

But it is a damning reflection on Stormont that its 108 MLAs were not able to come together in agreement on something so elementary as the fact that DLA here has become grotesquely bloated. It must now be radically overhauled.