What's it like for people with MS who claim benefits in Northern Ireland?

We asked 1,780 people with MS about their experiences of claiming disability benefits – this includes 83 people from Northern Ireland.

This survey found that financial support plays a vital role in allowing people with MS to cover the costs of their condition, as well as remain independent, participate in society and live fulfilling lives. However, for many people with MS, the disability benefits system is not making sense and people are struggling to access what they need.

Currently the major disability benefits for people with MS in Northern Ireland are Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Stressful, but necessary

Three quarters of respondents in Northern Ireland (77%) agreed that disability benefits have helped them manage the extra costs of their MS whilst nearly four out of five respondents (78%) said that without the support of disability benefits they would be unable to maintain their current level of independence.

I recently had a chat with Mark, a 39 year old from Derry/Londonderry, who has relapsing remitting MS. He told me about the stress he experiences when applying for benefits, “I find assessments for benefits really stressful. I am a very positive person and to sit and think about all the things you can’t do or need help with is very upsetting for me. I struggle with my writing, so a family member helped me with the form. The forms are so lengthy!”

Changes must be made

We believe the disability benefits system should work to make life easier not harder. Common sense changes can and should be made to make the system make sense for people with MS.

To achieve this, this report makes the following recommendations for Northern Ireland:

  • It is essential that assessors have appropriate training to recognise and understand the fluctuating nature of MS and its many symptoms.
  • Assessments for disability benefits should be timely and should not have a negative effect on a person’s health or cause stress and anxiety.
  • The MS Society supports the call by Advice NI for the introduction of a statutory right to independent advice, to ensure that people with MS receive the benefits they are entitled to.
  • MPs, MLAs, the media and other public figures should recognise their role in promoting a positive attitude towards people with a disability by leading the way in challenging stereotypes and removing the stigma attached to receiving benefits so that people with MS can play an active role in society.

> Read the Northern Ireland Report