MORE than 15,000 Scots struggling with alcohol and drug problems as well as others who are obese face having their benefits stopped under draconian new welfare plans being considered by Iain Duncan Smith.
The Conservative’s Work and Pensions Secretary has ordered a full-scale review into whether claimants who are severely overweight and those with addictions should be deprived of benefits unless they accept treatment.
The consultation paper, launched yesterday, insisted the purpose of the review was not punitive but was to “consider how best to support those suffering from long-term yet treatable conditions back into work or to remain in work”.
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It said it was designed to “establish the role such treatable conditions play in causing worklessness and estimate the associated cost to the exchequer and the economy”.
But last night the plans were attacked by the SNP, anti-poverty campaigners and church groups.
Natalie McGarry MP, SNP Spokesperson on Disabilities said: “We believe that all people should get the support they need in terms of medical and/or psychological treatment which will allow them to recover or get better.
“However, I am concerned this is another example of the UK Tory Government pushing their ideological mission to dismantle the welfare state. Cutting benefits is a way to push people into poverty and in turn, fuel the need for more public service.
“It is not a valid way of addressing the health or addiction issues of a minority of people on benefits. People need to be supported back into the workforce, and not supported by the Tories into poverty.”
John Dickie, director of Child
Poverty Action Group in Scotland, warned depriving people struggling with mental health problems and addictions of support through the benefit system would be counter-productive.
“Far from saving the public money, this policy is likely to aggravate mental health problems and ratchet up the pressure on devolved services such as the health, housing and mental health services,” he said.
“People should be encouraged to access the help they need but this should not become a condition of their access to basic financial support. The policy is a distraction from the real crisis facing this country.”
He added that the development followed a forecast in the increase in child poverty by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which projected up to 100,000 more children in Scotland would be living in poverty by 2020.
The review could affect more than 100,000 people across the UK, while in Scotland 5,710 claimants receiving employment and support allowance (which replaced incapacity benefit) had drug problems, while 9,230 had problems with alcohol.
No separate figures were available on obesity.
A Church of Scotland spokesman added: “The primary aim of the welfare system should be to enhance dignity for all, so that every citizen may live life in all its fullness. We would urge all consideration of welfare policy to be characterised by the principles of fairness and compassion, and for the Government to involve in decision making those who will be affected by its policy proposals as well as experts in the field.”
The consultation paper wants the review to be completed before the end of the year by Dame Carol Black.
The paper admitted strong ethical issues were at stake, but also questioned whether such people should continue to receive benefits if they refuse government-provided treatment.
The review, which was limited to obese people when it was first outlined in
February, is now being expanded to include the cost of drug dependency and alcoholism to society and taxpayers.
It said: “While many long-term conditions are potentially treatable, the current system fails to ensure everyone receives effective healthcare or specialist employment support. This keeps many people out of work – trapping them in worklessness and welfare dependency.
“For about 90,000 people claiming employment and support allowance, their illness is primarily due to their drug or alcohol addiction. Of these, about 8,000 have been claiming incapacity benefits for five years or more.”
Announcing the review, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Our one-nation approach is about giving everyone the opportunity to improve their lives, and for some that means dealing with those underlying health issues first and foremost.
“Whether it is drug or alcohol problems, or preventable conditions in terms of obesity, support and treatment will be there for you. And we must look at what we do when people simply say no thanks and refuse that help, but expect taxpayers to carry on funding their benefits.
“Over the next five years, I want to see many more people coming off sick benefit and into work and Carol Black will report back to me on how best to achieve that.”
Black said: “Addiction to drugs and alcohol, and in some cases extreme obesity, can have a profoundly damaging impact on people’s chances of taking up meaningful employment.”