The Chief Executive of drug charity DrugScope, Martin Barnes, said today:
“We are surprised and concerned at reports that Ministers believe that stopping benefits is an appropriate or effective way of engaging people with drug or alcohol treatment and supporting their recovery. If accurate, this would be a reversal of the government’s publicly stated position.
“The previous Labour government introduced legislation which would have given unprecedented powers to Jobcentre staff, including requiring people to answer questions about possible drug and alcohol use, undergo medical assessments and drug testing. Following strong criticism of these proposals by the independent Social Security Advisory Committee, this government announced in June 2010 that it would not proceed with the plans.
“The Drug Strategy states that people with drug and alcohol problems will be supported to engage with treatment and recovery services and that benefit sanctions linked to treatment would not be introduced.
“We are today seeking clarification of the government’s intentions. We are aware that what ministers actually intended can be reported differently through the prism of unnamed or off-the-record briefings.
“There is no evidence that using the stick of benefit sanctions will help people to positively engage with treatment and support their recovery. Indeed, the risk is that people will disengage from support services, potentially worsening their dependency and the impacts on their families and communities. Linking benefit to a requirement to undergo treatment would set a dangerous precedent for people with physical or mental health problems and would be against the principles for healthcare set out in the NHS Constitution.
“We very much welcome the government’s commitment to support people in treatment and recovery, but much more needs to be done to make this a reality. The experience of many DrugScope members, for example, is that many people with drug and alcohol problems are not receiving the support they need from the Work Programme, nor from Jobcentre offices.The real issue for our members is the limited support often available to prepare people in recovery for work, and the lack of opportunities for them.’”
The Drug Strategy 2010 states (page 23):
“…The first step is to ensure that the benefit system supports engagement with recovery services. We will offer claimants who are dependent on drugs or alcohol a choice between rigorous enforcement of the normal conditions and sanctions where they are not engaged in structured recovery activity, or appropriately tailored conditionality for those that are. Over the longer term, we will explore building appropriate incentives into the universal credit system to encourage and reward treatment take-up.
“In practice, this means that those not in treatment will neither be specifically targeted with, nor excused from sanctions by virtue of their dependence, but will be expected to comply with the full requirements of the benefits regime or face the consequences. Where people are taking steps to address their dependence, they will be supported, and the requirements placed upon them will be appropriate to their personal circumstances and will provide them with the necessary time and space to focus on their recovery…” [emphasis added].