Benefits system to encourage drug addicts into treatment

The benefits system is to be used to encourage drug- or alcohol-dependent claimants into treatment, but will not penalise them for refusing to access services, under the government’s drugs strategy published today.

Claimants who refuse help will face the same sanctions as other recipients of out-of-work benefits, and will have their payments docked should they turn down job offers.

However, the strategy rejects earlier proposals to cut benefits for problem drug or alcohol users simply for refusing treatment.

Thos who do access treatment will receive a softer benefits regime, in which any sanctions will be tailored to their personal circumstances.

“This strategy will take a holistic approach to helping benefit claimants beat their drug and alcohol dependency, so they have every chance of competing in today’s labour market, said minister for disabled people Maria Miller.

“Those who go into treatment will be offered every support to help overcome their addiction, but those who refuse it will face the same benefit sanctions as every other job seeker.”

The idea of sanctioning people simply for refusing treatment – which was also put forward by the last government – was criticised by charities and the government’s Social Security Advisory Committee.

The approach announced today was welcomed by charity DrugScope. “We welcome the fact that the benefit system will offer support for recovery rather than additional targeted sanctions and that the need to work with potential employers is recognised,” said its chief executive, Martin Barnes.

The drugs strategy also confirmed the government’s aim to move away from harm reduction as the goal of treatment – an approach associated with the last government – to a focus on abstinence and recovery.

As part of this, the government wants to slash the number of addicts maintained on methadone and other “substitute prescriptions” by encouraging them to access services.

To support the emphasis on recovery, the government wants to build local networks of recovery champions, some of whom would be peer mentors.

The government also plans to introduce payment by results to persuade service providers to focus on recovery. This will be piloted for drugs services in six areas from 2011, and may be extended to specialist alcohol treatment.

The idea is to make more explicit connections between drug treatment and outcomes, such as improved access to housing and jobs, and better health.

However, concerns have been expressed in the past that services might cherry pick clients who are easiest to help, leaving others without adequate support.

Turning Point’s chief executive, Victor Adebowale, said today: “The government must ensure that, if payments by results is implemented, providers are given the right incentives to work with everyone who comes through their door, including long-term drug users who may require more support to become abstinent.”

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