Benefit cuts won’t end problem drug use
Today’s Home Office consultation on the Government’s new drug strategy asks:
Should we be making more of the potential to use the benefit system to offer claimants a choice between: some form of financial benefit sanction, if they do not take action to address their drug or alcohol dependency; or, additional support to take such steps, by tailoring the requirements placed upon them as a condition of benefit receipt to assist their recovery?
It’s interesting to remember that within days of entering Government the Coalition decided not to proceed with Labour pilots that would, in part, have followed this appoach. At the time, the Social Security Advisory Committee’s (SSAC) critical report was cited as the reason – as has been widely reported today, the committee concluded that:
There is little, if any, evidence that strong mandation will support problem drug users to succeed in treatment and move towards the labour market. It may, in fact, move people further from the labour market as they drop out of the benefits system and turn to other sources of income such as crime and prostitution.
The SSAC report documents responses from organisations including the Scottish Government, who:
noted that research shows that any action that is seen to be coercive or inappropriately punitive will not work and that such an approach will deter people from either seeking drug treatment or claiming benefits.
And from Release, who:
noted that the use of rewards would be a far more positive approach than merely using penalties in order to achieve an objective [and] stated that whilst there is nothing inherently wrong in applying sanctions to achieve an aim, this should not be at the risk of driving away vulnerable individuals from the benefit system.
from Drugscope, who:
expressed concern that Jobcentre Plus staff without specialist knowledge of substance misuse and assessment will have to make these judgements [about whether or not a claimant is a problem drug user] based on limited observation.
The consultation responses were clear – as a means to engage problem drug users in treatment, evidence and experience shows sanctions won’t work and are instead likely to cause considerable harm.