Substance misusers who refuse treatment could have their welfare benefits cut or withdrawn under plans being considered by the Home Office against expert advice.
The idea to introduce some form of “financial benefit sanction” is in a consultation paper on the government’s drug strategy for England, Wales and Scotland.
This is despite the Department for Work and Pensions dropping Welfare Reform Drug Recovery pilots in June that had been established by the previous government to do precisely this on the grounds they were unlikely to be effective.
This DWP’s decision had been based on a report by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), an independent expert group.
This report said: “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.”
Martin Barnes, chief executive of charity DrugScope, said he “seriously questioned” whether linking benefit sanctions to a requirement to undergo treatment was fair and effective.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme there was no evidence that such an approach would work for a “particularly vulnerable and marginalised group”.
The consultation paper also includes plans for a “more holistic” approach to tackling drug misuse, alongside other issues such as alcohol misuse, mental health problems, child protection and housing.
In a statement, Barnes added: “This is definitely positive, although there needs to be sufficient resourcing available to enable a more mainstream response to drug misuse and its complex social problems to happen. Recognising that mental health services and substance misuse services could work together more closely is another positive.”