James Purnell to extend welfare reform agenda to alcohol misusers

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell said today that the government’s programme to move people from welfare into work will be extended to target people who misuse alcohol.

He said the government would commission research to explore how the welfare system could be used to support alcohol misusers to move off benefits, while the Department of Health and Department for Work and Pensions would also conduct a review on the issue.

In last year’s welfare reform white paper, the DWP pledged to introduce a drug and employment support programme, under which problem heroin or crack cocaine users would be required to undergo treatment and rehabilitation in return for benefits.

Heroin and crack users

The current Welfare Reform Bill includes provisions to require claimants to be interviewed about their drug use, and if necessary, answer questions about any treatment they may be receiving. They could also be required to undertake an assessment if it is felt their drug use is affecting their work prospects.

Those who fail to turn up to assessments could be required to undertake drugs test to determine their level of use, under the provisions.

Purnell said today: “We can’t abandon anyone to long periods on benefits without help to overcome problems. So that’s why we are going to look at the arrangements for alcoholics on benefits, just as we did for problem drug users, so that people get the help they need to get sober, to get their life back and get back to work.”

‘Fundamentally inhumane’

However, Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions secretary Steve Webb said: “Threatening to deprive people of their basic benefits unless they recover from alcoholism is fundamentally inhumane. 

“There are far too few support services for alcoholics, and there is no evidence that people who are threatened in this way are more likely to seek help.”

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