Scottish Government urged to defend drug users from UK welfare sanctions
SCOTTISH Drugs Forum Director David Liddell has urged the Scottish Government to defend Scotland’s most vulnerable people against revived UK Government proposals to force benefit claimants with drug or alcohol problems into treatment or have their benefits cut.
The move could undermine the Scottish Government’s national Road to Recovery drug strategy as well as its key Early Years/Early Intervention agenda because it would add further pressure on the already difficult lives of people struggling with drug problems, with a knock-on effect on their children and families he says.
UK Department of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has signalled, via media briefings, the UK Coalition Government’s intention to cut the benefits of claimants who reject drugs or alcohol treatment from October 2013 - when Universal Credit, which wraps benefits into one payment, is introduced.
According to The Guardian, Government sources said Jobcentre Plus staff will be allowed to say that a suspected addict is in breach of “claimant contract” commitments to look for work in return for welfare support if they refuse help for alcoholism or drug addiction.
The news has re-ignited strong protest from drug charities, including Scottish Drugs Forum, who had mounted strong opposition to a similar proposal in 2008 by the former UK Labour Government.
However, the plan at that time could not be implemented automatically in Scotland – despite the benefit system being a UK Government responsibility – because key elements needed to be co-ordinated with health and criminal justice functions, which are devolved to the Scottish Government.
When the UK Coalition Government abandoned welfare reform recovery pilots in England after its election win in 2010, the Scottish Government said at the time that it had consistently stated the ethos of the relevant legislation was contrary to its strategy, ”as we would prefer to focus in Scotland on a positive, partnership oriented approach towards selling the benefits of training and work to recovering drug users.”
It said then that it would continue to work closely with local Employability Partnerships and Alcohol and Drug Partnerships to ensure that incentives to employment are offered “in the most beneficial way to those in recovery.”
In response to the latest DWP proposals, a spokesman for the Scottish Government told Bulletin: “The Scottish Government will continue to watch this area closely.”
David Liddell said: “The new reported suggestion by Iain Duncan Smith to place benefit sanctions on problem drug users is of major concern and will not work in terms of either reducing drugs harm to people and society or saving public money.
“It has the potential to seriously undermine the Road to Recovery strategy and its emphasis on person-centred approaches for individuals with drug problems.
“It also runs counter to the Scottish Government’s shift of public service focus to children and young people through targeting improvements in outcomes for most vulnerable families by supporting parents to build their confidence and capacity.
“It will be massively counterproductive approach for the most troubled individuals who do not, at the time of making a benefit claim, have the personal resources or support to cope with the demands of drug treatment.
“Neither will they be able to cope with the high-pressure bureaucracy and the sanctions placed on them as a result of not complying with the conditions laid down to receive what are already breadline levels of welfare support.
“This measure could trigger relapse and add further pressure on people already struggling to recover from harmful drug use.
“It will also prove costly to society in terms of increased crime, health and prison resources and the knock-on damaging effect on families already severely affected by poverty and deprivation.
“Yet again we are seeing a deliberate failure to understand the nature of addiction and recovery from addiction. Coercing people into treatment is not the way forward.
“The Scottish Government robustly defended Scotland’s interests when these proposals were mooted by the last UK Labour government and must do so again.”
The Guardian report quotes the DWP Secretary as saying: “Under Universal Credit we want to do more to encourage and support claimants into rehabilitation for addiction and starting them on the road to recovery and eventually work.
“Getting people into work and encouraging independence is our ultimate goal. Universal credit will put people on a journey towards a sustainable recovery so they are better placed to look for work in future and we will be outlining our plans shortly.”