Benefits for Alcohol and Drug Addicts Being Reviewed

Wednesday, July 29th 2015

People addicted to alcohol and drugs could lose their sickness benefits if they refuse treatment under a review currently being processed.

Medical expert Dame Carol Black is to look into the support given to addicts as well as obese people who are on sickness benefits meant to support them better in work.

The review was ordered by David Cameron, who says currently there is no requirement for such groups to have treatment. He suggests that this could change.

The notion of asking drug users to get treatment or else lose their benefits was initially suggested by the last Labour government. However after a consultation, the idea was not adopted.

The Conservatives suggested extending the concept of sanctions to the clinically obese and those with serious alcoholism during the last Parliament, but the coalition government did not pursue the notion.

The prime minister said in February that he would ask Dame Carol to look into the support that the 90,000 alcohol and drug addicts estimated to be on sickness benefits get. This pledge was included in the party’s election manifesto. On Wednesday, ministers said the review has begun and will call for evidence by September 11th.

Dame Carol was formally president of the Royal College of Physicians and advices the Department of Health to improve working people’s welfare. She will examine the support provided to those with drug and drink-related illnesses seeking to return to work and already in employment.

As part of the exercise, Dame Carol said she wants to speak to employers and addicts. It will inspect a number of options, including the case for linking the take-up of appropriate treatments to benefit entitlements.

She said it will be essential to recognise the most cost-effective programmes and treatments both here and overseas. She will also look at how the benefits system, health care and employment support services act together to give support.

While treatment and support would continue to be provided for all, Mr Cameron said the system must look at what should be done when addicts actively refuse help and expect taxpayers to carry on funding their benefits.

However, one conservative MP said that to coerce people wouldn’t be acceptable in an ethical capacity. Conservative chair of the Commons Health Select Committee Sarah Wollaston is a former GP. She said the government should proceed cautiously if it wants to link welfare payments directly to medical treatment.

She told BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show that it is a form of coercion for consent and feels it is unacceptable ethically. She said she thinks it would be difficult for any doctor to treat a patient without valid consent, thus invalidating the consent if it was linked conditionally to benefits.