Disability living allowance recipients

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • Around one in ten of the working-age population in Northern Ireland is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA).  This rate is twice that for Great Britain.
  • Part of the explanation for higher DLA recipiency in Northern Ireland lies in its worse levels of ill-health.  For example, in 2001, 17% of the working-age population described themselves as suffering from a limiting long-standing illness, compared with 14% for Great Britain as a whole.
  • Across the Great Britain regions, there was a link in 2001 between self-reported limiting long-standing illness and DLA recipiency (ranging from 18% and 6% respectively for Wales, to 10% and 2.5% respectively for the English South East).  Northern Ireland, though, does not fully fit this pattern, having a higher rate of DLA recipiency than any Great Britain region but a rate of limiting long-standing illness that is lower than both Wales and the North East of England.
  • The rate of limiting long-standing illness depends in part on the age distribution of the population.  Since Northern Ireland has a young population, its age-standardised rate of limiting long-standing illness is on a par with that in Wales, which itself has the highest age-standardised rate of any Great Britain region.  Standardising for age, however, does not affect the ratio between DLA recipiency and limiting long-standing illness, which therefore remains high for Northern Ireland.
  • Other research confirms the impression that receipt of DLA in Northern Ireland is high relative to the levels of mortality and limiting long-standing illness. 1  Given the rigour with which DLA claims are judged, one possible explanation is that, because of the conflict, the nature of ‘limiting long-standing illness’ is more severe in Northern Ireland while another is that social and institutional factors mean that a higher proportion of those who would qualify for DLA actually claim the benefit in Northern Ireland.

Definitions and data sources

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is a payment towards covering the additional, day-to-day costs of living with disability, available to people under the age of 65.  It has two components, one for people who have difficulties with walking and one for people with care needs.  The official who decides whether to award DLA can refer the claimant for examination by a doctor acting on the government’s behalf.  Entitlement to DLA is therefore tightly defined and subject to rigorous assessment.

The first graph shows how the proportion of working age people in receipt of DLA has changed over time.  For comparison purposes, the equivalent data for Great Britain is also shown.

The second graph shows how both the proportion of working age people receiving DLA and the proportion of working-age people self-reporting a limiting long-standing illness compare to the regions of Great Britain.  Because data on limiting long-standing illness is only available from the 2001 Census, the data on DLA recipiency is also for 2001.

The source for the Northern Ireland data on DLA recipiency in both graphs is the Department for Social Development and the source for the Great Britain data is the Department of Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study.  All the data is for the month of February in the stated year.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium.  The data on benefit recipiency come from administrative counts and the question asked in the Census is the usually accepted way of measuring the prevalence of limiting long-standing illness.  However, their definitions use differing thresholds.  Furthermore, the Northern Ireland and Great Britain data come from different sources.

1. Rosato, M. and O’Reilly, D., 2006. Should uptake of state benefits be used as indicators of need and disadvantage?, Health and Social Care in the Community Vol 14 (4), pp. 294-301.  It should be noted that the same study also concludes that most of the variation in the uptake of DLA within Northern Ireland (that is, between different electoral wards) can be explained by variations in limiting long-standing illness and mortality.  Table 3 in this study shows that the degree of explanation achieved here is similar to that in the three Northern regions of England as well as London.  See also O’Reilly, D. and Stevenson, M. , 2004. Are data on the uptake of disability benefits a useful addition to census data in describing population health care needs? Journal of Health Service Research and Policy Vol.9 (3) July 2004.