Benefit sanctions plan for drug addicts is not the answer

It emerged today that the Home Office is considering implementing a plan under which those dependant on drugs and alcohol would have their benefits removed if they refused to receive treatment.

It emerged today that the Home Office is considering implementing a plan under which those dependant on drugs and alcohol would have their benefits removed if they refused to receive treatment. The move was originally proposed by the Labour government, but it was scrapped when the Social Security Advisory Committee warned that it could lead addicts into crime and prostitution. However, with its re-appearance in a consultation paper today, it appears the coalition government are once again considering the contentious idea.

The move certainly seems in keeping with Cameron’s iron-fisted clampdown on benefits, and there are many who would argue that in our new-found ‘age of austerity’ , substance-abusers should have to feel the pinch like everyone else. 

Indeed, if there is any social group the prime minister can play hardball with and probably avoid too much criticism, is is drug addicts. His good friends in the tabloid media – who so revel in demonising almost anyone reliant on welfare – are hardly sympathetic when it comes to more liberal approaches to tackling drug problems.

However, a leading figure at a major UK drug charity – arguably the sort of group best placed to comment on the potential effectiveness of any given scheme – has reacted with apprehension and dismay to the news that this move is being considered again.  Martin Barnes, chief executive of charity DrugScope, said on Radio 4 this morning:

“The benefit system can and indeed does have a very important role in terms of advice and support to encourage people both to access treatment and employment. But we seriously question both the fairness and the effectiveness of actually using the stick of compulsion – benefit sanctions – to link a requirement to undergo medical treatment with a condition of receipt of benefit.

Barnes drew attention to the fact that the NHS constitution requires that “medical intervention should be therapeutic, consensual, confidential”, and stated there is “absolutely no evidence” the scheme would have any positive effect upon drug-users, who he labelled a “vulnerable and often marginalised group”.

In this light, it is hard not to question whether the coalition’s reviving of this untested scheme is a wise move. When experts are  heavily questioning the impact it will have, and when the proposal comes only months after the Social Security Advisory Committee canned the idea first time round because they concluded it would cause “significant harm” and have “negative economic and social impacts”, one wonders why the government has decided it is an idea worthy of consideration again.

However keen Mr Cameron is to save billions of pounds, he must surely recognize that all the evidence suggests this is a scheme which will do little more than exacerbate an already awful problem. Many hold true the maxim that ‘a society is ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members’, and if this plan is followed through on, and the result that all the available evidence suggests will occur, does occur, then it will reflect damningly upon the coalition.

Perhaps, if the prime minister really wants to tackle Britain’s drug issue, he will move away from plans to try and coerce addicts into receiving treatment through arbitrary financial sanctions, and consider a more fundamental review of the country’s drug laws – as repeatedly called for by leading doctors and analysts, and advocated by Left Foot Forward earlier this week.

14 Responses to “Benefit sanctions plan for drug addicts is not the answer”

  1. Matthew Owen

    RT @leftfootfwd: Benefit sanctions plan for drug addicts is not the answer: http://bit.ly/cX2Z1r

  2. CAROLE JONES

    RT @leftfootfwd: Benefit sanctions plan for drug addicts is not the answer: http://bit.ly/cX2Z1r

  3. Shamik Das

    Benefit sanctions plan for drug addicts is not the answer: http://bit.ly/cX2Z1r argues @Matt0wen on @leftfootfwd

  4. Darren Bridgman

    RT @leftfootfwd: Benefit sanctions plan for drug addicts is not the answer: http://bit.ly/cX2Z1r <agree

  5. james

    RT @leftfootfwd: Benefit sanctions plan for drug addicts is not the answer: http://bit.ly/cX2Z1r < you lot really are s bunch of cunts eh!

  6. Acid Fascists

    RT @leftfootfwd: Benefit sanctions plan for drug addicts is not the answer: http://bit.ly/cX2Z1r

  7. Mr. Sensible

    Matt, I may not have agreed with you in the debate on Wednesday, but I think I do on this.

  8. Robert

    It was not to long ago Labour and Brown were talking about cutting benefits to drug users, it was OK then for Labour many saying it was about time, he even stated he would look at DLA for the most disabled, Flint wanted to throw drug users out of houses, that was fine, now the Tories are wrong.

    The fact is we need to help people, sadly even under Labour drug users were advised rehab would take a year, but the waiting list could be four or five years as they cut the funding.

    It’s a funny old world once you get into opposition, what Labour did becomes forgotten

  9. Robert

    Jobless drug addicts who lie to obtain benefits will be forced to repay the money and could face jail, under a new crackdown on welfare cheats to be unveiled tomorrow.

    And unemployed people who take drugs will be banned from receiving dole money and switched to a new Treatment Allowance – a category introduced solely for drug-takers in a bid to shame them into giving up their addiction.

    The new proposals have been drawn up by Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell as part of the biggest-ever crackdown on welfare abuse.

    New labour memory loss

  10. Kellie

    RT @leftfootfwd Benefit Sanctions plan for drug addicts is not the answer http://bit.ly/cX2Z1r

  11. Colin

    This is a complete red herring. Most heroin users are either in treatment or have been recently. ‘Treatment’ actually means a methadone prescription and not much more at present and most heroin users are quite happy to pick up the prescription on their way to get their benefits. It was an easy win for Labour and it would appear that the Tories have figured that out as well. Now the real task is to find many of these people jobs. Many of them would work if they could but prejudice and previous criminal histories prevent them from getting back into the labour market even if they are clean and have completed their treatment.

  12. keeley

    I have had problems with heroin for 11 yrs, now im on methadone and doing okay, i think putting some kind of sanctions on benefits is on 1 hand, a great idea, because if users cant do it for themselves, they need to be pushed to get clean and work, however on the other hand, if people are not ready to come off drugs, they will do anything they can to get the money, whether that is stealing, or prostitution.

  13. CAMBRIDGE

    Having worked with the Jobcentre plus in the past and seen first hand the abuse of the system by drug and alcohol addicts, amongst a host of other benefits fraudsters, I find myself for the first time agreeing with the coalition plan to restrict benefits for addicts unless they agree to treatment. Past drug laws have obviously failed woefully and unless something drastic is done, such as withdrawing the easy benefits money that feeds their addiction, these addicts will continue to blight the society, their families and themselves.

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