Tory drug plans fall flat

Drugs and disability campaigners have slammed Conservative plans to tackle substance misuse, unveiled in the party’s social welfare blueprint.

Breakthrough Britain was launched last week by the party’s Social Justice Policy Group, headed by Iain Duncan Smith. It said the proposals could form the “biggest shake-up in the welfare system since the 1940s”.

Drug charities raised concerns over calls to replace harm reduction treatments with abstinence programmes. Benefits reforms, which would force more lone parents and disabled people to seek work, were also criticised.

The report said methadone was ineffective in treating addiction and called its widespread use a “cause of deep disquiet”. It also questioned the effectiveness of needle exchanges.

David Chater, head of policy at young people’s charity Rainer, said although the policy group was right to pick up on concern over the effectiveness of methadone, any abstinence-only proposal carried a risk that people would fail to engage in services.

Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Turning Point, said the proposal “flew in the face of evidence” that a range of treatment solutions were often necessary to address complex needs.

However, the charities welcomed proposals to invest £400m in drug and alcohol treatment programmes.

The report also called for most people on incapacity benefit to spend 20 hours a week working or seeking work and to take any “reasonable” job.

An expectation would also fall on some who received disability living allowance, although most would be expected to spend five to 10 hours a week preparing for work. Speedier sanctions for those who did not meet requirements were advocated.

Disability charity Leonard Cheshire said the proposals showed a “simplistic” understanding of the challenges facing disabled people wanting work and that sanctions had proved ineffective.

The report also said lone parents on benefits with children under five should spend 20 hours a week working or looking for work or 30 hours if their child is over 11.

Key proposals

● Tax break for married couples where one does not work.
● Increases in working family tax credit for married couples.
● Raising tax on alcohol to tackle binge drinking.


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