24 2 mins 6 yrs

I was asked to write an article on the news that the number of people claiming Disability Living Allowance in Northern Ireland is soaring at a time when it is falling elsewhere in the UK. You can have a read of it here, if you fancy. I was intrigued by the comments underneath my article. You will see some people agree with me whilst those who differ hope I get cancer. That’s nice.

I guess the main point I wanted to make was that this sort of Benefit must be closely scrutinised before it is handed over to claimants. The second point is that the core areas of support for Sinn Fein coincide with the major areas of DLA claim. This is why they refuse to countenance any change to Welfare and will edge the country closer to the cliff edge in order to ensure the parasites can drain the UK taxpayer.

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  1. It’s an interesting topic and I think you might draw personal criticism for your approach as well as your analysis. I hope you don’t take my comment personally because I have no desire to exchange tit-for-tat insults here or anywhere. The problem of the growing disability industry is rampant in many countries that offer such benefits. In the US, the exponential increase over the past few decades results from an added unique incentive (I think)…in the US it pays to move people from ‘welfare’ to disability because welfare is largely a state-controlled program while disability is a federal scheme. There’s an obvious benefit for states to assist recipients of public assistance to the federal program…a thriving industry has developed around this…both private and nonprofit for a fee or one-shot percentage of benefits recovered…and local politicians have been known to help their constituents get (federally funded) benefits for sincere reasons such as concern as well as for votes.
    The truth is there’s no such diagnosis as disability…it can be somewhat ambiguous and arbitrary. Two people with the same diagnosis might get very different results when they seek benefits….due to personal biases of doctors, clerks, and hearing officers or whomever is charged with making the decision…some will be more prone to say yes. In the US, benefit seekers can be represented by attorneys in the appeals process…but there is no lawyer for the gov’t in such hearings.
    In certain areas with high disability rates, there is a correlation with education. People with a higher education degree tend not to go on disability because their jobs don’t require much manual labor so physical disabilities aren’t exacerbated by manual labor or standing all day, etc. They make more money than they would on disability benefits. They are less likely to get injured on the job. People with higher ed degrees want to maintain a certain standard of living…someone who’s option is a low-paying physically taxing job has totally different expectations and maybe even aspirations.
    I have an old sports injury that causes pain.I have good insurance so I get weekly ‘medical massages’ and my company subsidizes my gym expenses giving me access to trainers, pools, whirlpools, yoga, etc. From time to time I’ve had more intense medical intervention including surgery and physical therapy paid for mostly by company and insurance coverage. My friend’s mom has a similar injury…she’s been on disability since her early 50s..she was a hairdresser by trade….self-employed…standing all day exacerbates the injury and the resulting pain. You can see the parallels for a similar case in the UK….in the US there’s an added incentive…it’s a way to get better insurance coverage.
    I’ve more to say on this particularly your referencing of core areas of SF support but duty calls…will try to come back to it later. Blame any all typos on iPad 🙂

  2. There has been a huge rise in ” disability ” status in the US, with many collecting Social Security and other benefit early.

    The designation of disabled status can be quite easy with the aid of a friendly doctor

    I know two people who are on this ( Social Security disabled ) status. They could work but they’re not looking too hard since they’re happy enough doing nothing.

    This is a major problem in the US, rarely discussed by any of the politicians.

  3. Very fine article Mr Vance.

    It is clear that fraud in this area is rampant in NI , and it is correct to speak straight about it.

    Anyone who does not speak straight about it is unfit to govern or to be part of any governance.

  4. Just a few more points that have to be explored when discussing this topic….my friend’s mom loved her job and hated losing her shop. And she went back to school to gain secretarial skills but was unable to attain permanent employment…just freelance work (in part because of her age) for many years before going on disability. Freelancers don’t qualify for medical coverage and in those cases they do….it’s usually minimal.
    In the US and I’m guessing in the UK too….the increase in people with disabilities comes from three main disability groups: back injuries, mental illness, and children. There aren’t many jobs available for people who fall into those categories (taking into account that most sit-down-type jobs are ‘professional’ ones). With that said….back pain and mental illness can be…to the extent of that it is diagnosable as a disability can be somewhat arbitrary (and faked in some cases) Add to that, the workforce itself is getting older and older people have more health problems…particularly back problems yet we are required to work more years before receiving pensions/benefits. In the days of yore, people with mental illnesses lived in institutions, now for good or bad, they’re in our communities. We paid for/subsidized them before when they were institutionalized; now we just pay for them under a different guise/scheme. Once people go on disability, they seldom go back to work. There is no incentive in the system, there is very little follow-up except taking the word of the recipient backed up by a doctor who is usually making their anecdotal decision since often the extent of mental illness and back pain is based on anecdotall reporting by the recipient and/or caregiver.
    The third largest growing category is children…this is relatively new phenomenon….families with a disabled child get supplemental payments for a kid with disabilities….there’s a financial incentive to get your kid ‘labeled’. In days the past if a kid wasn’t academically inclined or had ADHD or a learning disability, they didn’t qualify for the supplemental income. They tended to go into trades or work in stores or as laborers (just some examples) where they could make a decent living…that’s not as true anymore. Those jibs aren’t there….and the families get the supplemental income until the child turns 21…not much incentive to get a job….even a menial part-time job would mean the family has to give up the supplement. Who knows what the long-term effects of such schemes have on child….I doubt it’s been studied. Again, once on disability, most don’t go back to work and with children, they just move from the supplemental benefit to the family to ‘regular’ disability. As the incident rate of diagnoses like autism , e.g., rise….so too does the number of children on disability. With a lot of these childhood diagnoses, children to catch up or with special help progress through school but it ‘pays’ to have them labelled and kept on disability status. It encourages dependence.

  5. The problems in places like West Belfast are huge. I was shocked at the number of people on disability back in the early 90s. Back the people weren’t being diagnosed w/PTSD….Grown men were diagnosed as schizophrenic when they had lived relatively productive lives before the troubles/others were diagnosed as psychotic and paranoid when the diagnoses clearly was PTSD. The treatment was drugs….heavy-duty drugs. Nobody can work when given those types of drugs. They’re still alive and still collecting benefits. Later I saw that PTSD became the diagnosis of choice and again the treatment of choice was drugs…though milder, still addictive. WB also has the highest (or one of the highest) birth rates particularly for single women and teenagers….in the past, you could blame it on the Catholic Church and stance against contraception but not anymore. Teenage mothers have kids with more health problems. It also has the lowest (or one of the lowest) life expectancy…that means people are dying early from some sort of health issues, thus responsible for some uptick in the disability rate and lending some credence to the argument that people are ‘sicker’ there. Add to that it has a very high, maybe the highest? suicide rate….so mental illness is very real in the area based on those statistics alone.
    Still not done 🙂 back later….

  6. Forget to add re: the birth rates, teenage mothers, and disability…WB also has the, or one of the highest rates of school age children labeled disabled….I’m not sure if how many or all of the families of these kids get supplemental benefits on their behalf but clearly there’s something going on and teenage pregnancy/parenthood plays a role…see above for the issues of getting children getting special benefits….

  7. 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.

    Which four areas of Northern Ireland saw the largest numbers of deaths in the conflict. I don’t have the numbers off hand but would anyone be surprised if it was West Belfast, Northern Belfast, Derry and South Armagh?

    The reasons why Northern Ireland has higher levels of DLA than other parts of the UK is that other parts of the UK didn’t have an open conflict situation for 40 years.

    Other groups with high experience of conflict (soldiers for example) have higher than normal levels of mental health problems.

  8. Didn’t mean to put an italic on all of it. The first paragraph is from David’s article.

  9. Drinking and drugging are also big problems in poor areas the world over including places like WB…I don’t think I have to go into why…it’s pretty well established and has been studied to death (no pun intended) and while middle class and wealthy also have their share of addicts…there are different motivational factors and access to treatment. Addiction is a health problem in and of itself and leads to many others….hence another tick in the rise in people on benefits. Those are some of the main reasons for the rise in disability in many western countries…not just the UK …and not just places where SF rules…and I’m not discounting a rise in fakers…
    And the icing on the cake is Seamus’ point above.
    I’m not saying SF bears no responsibility; I just think it’s more complicated and I don’t think pointing fingers and saying “youse are to blame” given the history of open conflict in the areas you’re talking about helps in finding a solution.

  10. Obviously the effects of the Troubles are a factor, but they cannot explain the huge difference in the rates of people on benefits in the same general areas.
    It’s hard to believe there are proportionally TWICE as many recipients in W Belfast as in E Belfast.

    I’d like to have a look at the real figures.

    Otherwise, David, a big Congratulations for getting an article in the Telegraph.

  11. There used to be a ‘stick it to the Brits’ attitude in some nationalist/republican areas when I asked why so many people were ‘doing the double’; and that they couldn’t otherwise make ends meet on paltry and/or intermittent wages. It was also a reason why there were so few marriages and so many children…less benefits for married couples or at least the father could work without interfering with the mother/child benefits. I don’t know if this is prevalent today.

  12. Noel,

    I don’t know whether or not this information is accurate but it all I can find quickly.

    Deaths by area of the city:

    West: 617
    North: 563
    South: 213
    East: 128

    So I don’t think it is hard to believe that East and West Belfast are so different.

  13. This is from Sutton:

    Belfast West – 623
    Belfast North – 577
    County Armagh – 477
    County Tyrone – 341
    County Down – 243
    Derry – 227
    Belfast South – 213
    County Antrim – 209
    Belfast East – 128
    Britain – 125
    County Derry – 123
    Republic of Ireland – 116
    County Fermanagh – 112
    Europe – 18

  14. Interesting numbers…West/North/South Belfast are fairly small areas of County Antrim and then add the Antrim numbers and they no doubt took the biggest hit compared to the other counties.

  15. I performed Disability Living Allowance (DLA) medicals for over 10 years here in the UK. The plain fact of the matter was that if your report found against the claimant, this would most likely generate a complaint. Receive too many complaints and you are out. I resigned before I was fired.

    The system is stacked against the taxpayer. If you want to sit on your arse and be paid for by the state, you will be supported by doctors who take the easy road.

    Before anyone criticizes those doctors, remember that the “system” will not back them up as political correctness trumps logic, reason or evidence.

    Is this cowardice on the doctor’s part?


  16. Seamus, I meant the figures for benefits claimants, not the figures for deaths in the Troubles.
    To be honest, I find it difficult to believe WB has twice the rate of another part of the same city. As I said, the effects of the Troubles are a factor, but 20 years after the ceasefires they can’t still be making a difference of 100 %.

  17. In the US, the original disability claim is usually denied. They are one on appeal in a hearing with the claimant having an attorney present. As said above, the gov’t or taxpayer is represented by counsel.
    I have a friend who was on disability in Stockholm. She received a very high benefit payment and plenty of medical services and retraining….there was an enormous amount of support offered/recieved to get her back on a payroll.

  18. Also I meant to say the government and taxpayer are NOT represented in these hearings.
    The problem of receiving benefits is cyclical…passed on from generation to generation far too often.

  19. And those that make it out of poverty for whatever reason also leave those communities…leaving the most troubled/incompetent/less educated/etc. behind.

  20. Noel,

    I don’t have more up to date numbers however, during the period 2004-2008:

    Deaths due to Suicide and Undetermined Intent

    West Belfast: 93
    North Belfast: 101
    East Belfast: 46

    So West Belfast has over double the rate of suicides compared to East Belfast. I’m pretty sure if I dig a little deeper most of the measurements of mental health problems in West Belfast will be substantially higher, if not more than double, than in East Belfast.

  21. Hmm, thanks, Seamus.

    Very grim figures, and they do tell a lot and make your explanation plausible.

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