DrugScope, the UK’s leading drug information charity, has responded to proposals outlined in the Welfare Reform Green Paper today for benefit claimants who are problem drug users.The proposals include requiring heroin or crack cocaine users to declare their drug use, information sharing between Jobcentre Plus and police, prisons and probation and requiring drug users to take up drug treatment or specialist employment support or face benefit sanctions.
The chief executive of DrugScope, Martin Barnes, said today:
"The experience of drug treatment services is that the majority of problem drug users want to be able to work.However, the barriers to overcoming a drug dependency and associated health and social problems should not be underestimated.
“Any requirement by Jobcentre Plus to take up treatment or specialist employment support must recognise the complex nature of drug dependency.It is vital that Jobcentre staff do not assume a ‘one size fits all’ model of drug treatment and that drug services take the lead in drawing up an appropriate individual care plan.
“We welcome the proposal to consider a ‘treatment allowance’ while people are in treatment if this enables a more flexible approach to usual benefit conditions, such as the actively seeking work requirement for those claiming jobseekers allowance.
“Genuine support and encouragement to help drug users into employment is welcome, but compulsion and threats of benefit sanctions could do more harm than good, risking further marginalisation. The stigma faced by people in drug treatment and the concerns of prospective employers need to be addressed, as do associated problems such as homelessness, debt and poor physical and mental health. The reality is that many drug users, including those already in treatment, are unable to access the full range of services and support they need or are entitled to.
“We have concerns about a requirement to declare whether someone is using heroin or crack cocaine, particularly if this is accompanied by the threat of benefit sanctions or ‘overpayment’ proceedings. People will be understandably anxious about giving such information to staff outside a treatment or primary care setting. Given public concerns about data protection, the proposal that prisons, probation services and the police share information with Jobcentre staff is also troubling.”
As the national membership organisation for the drugs field, DrugScope will be consulting with its members and stakeholders on the proposals in the Green Paper.
Contact Ruth Goldsmith in the DrugScope press office at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7520 7559 (07736 895563 out of hours) for further information and/or interviews.
The main measures proposed or highlighted in the Green Paper include:
information sharing between Jobcentre Plus and police, prisons and probation; a requirement to take up drug treatment and/or specialist employment support.
- whether there should be a requirement to declare use of heroin or crack cocaine;
Initially the focus will be on heroin and crack users - ‘over time’ the case for extending to people who are dependent on cannabis, powder cocaine and alcohol will be considered.
The Green Paper emphasises the importance ‘of an integrated approach to drug treatment, employment support and the range of barriers that recovering drug users face.’
Measures introduced will be piloted and evaluated before full roll out. ‘Drug co-ordinators’ will be introduced in Jobcentre Plus offices from the end of 2009 ‘to better link up treatment provision with employment support’.
The changes are proposed for England – the UK Government will consult with the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly on whether they will apply to Scotland and Wales.
Requirement to declare drug use
The Green Paper invites views on changing benefit rules to require all applicants to declare whether they use heroin or crack cocaine. Sanctions, including recovery of overpayments and investigations for fraud, could be used if the drug use is not declared. This could include information sharing with the police and ‘in a small number of cases’ (contracted out) drug testing. The Paper acknowledges that there are ‘drawbacks’ to introducing such a requirement.
[If such a requirement is introduced the likelihood is that it would have to be asked of all working age applicants for the benefit(s) for which the requirement applies. Selective application of such a requirement – e.g., based on an applicant’s age or gender – could be unlawful.]
It is proposed that Jobcentre Plus will receive information in the following circumstances:
- Testing on arrest: Jobcentre Plus to be told about those who are referred for a Required Assessment following a positive test for heroin or crack or powder cocaine. Drug Rehabilitation Requirements: Jobcentre Plus will be told when someone agrees to a Drug Rehabilitation Requirement as part of a community sentence. Prison: options for sharing information between the Prison Service and Jobcentre Plus will be explored to ‘fast track support for identified problem drug users.’
The sharing of information between police, prisons, probation and the courts will require primary legislation and be consistent with the Data Protection Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Requirement to take up treatment and/or specialist employment support
When a problem drug user has been identified by Jobcentre Plus the person may be required as a condition of receiving benefit to attend a meeting with a drug treatment provider. The claimant may also be required to take up ‘specialist employment support.’ Problem drug users will be required to draw up a ‘rehabilitation plan’ setting out the steps they will take to ‘stabilise their drug dependency, to move towards recovery, to tackle the problems they face and get into work’.
The Green Paper states that barriers to work – such as health problems, basic skill needs, housing, social exclusion and debt – will need to be addressed.
Failure to access and ‘take up’ drug treatment and specialist employment support will, unless there is ‘good cause’ result in a referral back to Jobcentre Plus and a possible benefit sanction. Account will be taken ‘ of the range of barriers that many drug dependent claimants face.’
The Green Paper invites views on introducing a ‘treatment allowance’ that would replace normal benefit payments while problem drug users ‘stabilise in treatment’.
[The aim would appear to be to enable benefit to continue to be paid while allowing a more flexible approach – e.g., possibly waiving actively seeking or availability for work requirements for a period for those claiming jobseekers allowance. The Green Paper does not make any reference to the amount of benefit or allowance that may be paid.]
The Green Paper states ‘employers will have a key role to play in these proposals’. Local Employment Partnerships (LEPs) are mentioned as a means of understanding employers’ requirements while employers ‘undertake to give people a fair shot at the job’ – e.g., through work trials, guaranteed interviews and mentoring.
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)