DrugScope, the UK’s leading drug information charity, has welcomed some of the measures in the White Paper on Welfare Reform but expressed concern over the potential use of benefit sanctions for problem drug users who do not engage in drug treatment.
The Chief Executive of DrugScope, Martin Barnes, said today:
“DrugScope welcomes the government’s commitment to improve access to employment, education and training for problem drug users, particularly the commitment to help people gain skills and address barriers to work.
"In its new drug strategy, the government stated its aim to remove the barriers to social inclusion for people affected by drug use. We applaud this but effective central co-ordination of activity is required to support this wider goal.
"While we welcome the decision not to require someone to declare heroin or crack cocaine use at the start of a benefit claim, the White Paper leaves open the possibility that a declaration of drug use may be required at a later stage. We oppose the introduction of drug testing by Jobcentres and hope this proposal does not go ahead.
“We are extremely concerned that a positive and supportive approach could be seriously undermined by the threat to withdraw benefits for problem drug users who do not engage with or remain in drug treatment.
"We supported the introduction of a treatment allowance if it provided genuine additional support for people in treatment - however, linked with the threat of benefit sanctions it looks more like a Trojan horse for compulsion.
“There is no evidence that using benefit sanctions to compel problem drug users into treatment will be effective. Withdrawing benefits could perversely drive some people further away from the support they need, potentially impacting upon their families and wider communities in the process.
“The majority of problem drug users want to be able to work, but the barriers to overcoming drug dependency should not be underestimated. The stigma faced by people in drug treatment and the concerns of prospective employers need to be addressed, alongside associated problems such as homelessness, debt and poor physical and mental health.
“A benefit regime for problem drug users should support drug users progress towards recovery, not punish those already vulnerable.”
DrugScope is the national membership organisation for the drugs sector. Today’s response draws on the findings of an extensive consultation process with our membership and wider stakeholders.
Contact Andrew McNicoll in the DrugScope press office at email@example.com or on 020 7520 7563 (07736 895563 out of hours) for further information and/or interviews.
Notes to editors
 Briefing Notes on Welfare Reform White Paper
The main measures proposed or highlighted in the White Paper with regards to problem drug users include:
The introduction of a 'Treatment Allowance' where conditions of entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance will be varied to 'support people in drug treatment'. 'Treatment Allowance' will be linked to engaging with a 'rehabilitation plan' which could include a requirement to undergo drug treatment.
Benefit sanctions for problem drug users who fail to engage in rehabilitation programmes 'without good cause'.
The Government will not make all new benefit claimants make a declaration of drug use at the start of their claim, but claimants who declare drug use or are suspected of having a heroin or crack problem may be asked to undertake an assessment by a 'healthcare professional'. The paper does not rule out the future possibility of mandatory 'drug testing' for claimants who fail to engage.
Proposals to share drug-related offenders' data from criminal justice agencies with Jobcentres.
A full copy of the White Paper can be viewed here: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/welfarereform/raisingexpectations/
 Estimates of problem drug users receiving benefits
The DWP estimates that nearly 267,000 problem drug users are in receipt of four main benefits – jobseekers allowance (JSA), income support (IS), disability living allowance (DLA) and incapacity benefit (IB). Up to 240,000 problem drug users are estimated to receive the three main ‘out-of-work benefits’ – IS, JSA and IB. The DWP estimates that at any one time 140,000 people receiving out-of-work benefits are in drug treatment.
Source: Population estimates of problematic drug users in England who access DWP benefits: A feasibility study; Department for Work and Pensions, Working Paper no. 46.
http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/WP46.pdf (PDF opens in a new window)