Sanctions against drug users attacked

A Drug charity yesterday criticised Government plans to withdraw welfare benefits from addicts who refuse treatment.

They said there was no evidence it would work and the idea could breach medical principles.

The Home Office is considering the prospect of some form of "financial benefit sanction" for claimants who fail to address their drug or alcohol dependency.

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It would mark the revival of a scheme planned by the previous Labour government aimed at helping to get drug users back into work if implemented, but social security advisers have warned that such a move could drive addicts back into a life of crime.

Martin Barnes, chief executive of charity DrugScope, said: "The benefit system can and indeed does have a very important role in terms of advice and support to encourage people both to access treatment and employment.

"But we seriously question both the fairness and the effectiveness of actually using the stick of compulsion – benefit sanctions – to link a requirement to undergo medical treatment with a condition of receipt of benefit."

He said there was "absolutely no evidence" that would work for a "vulnerable and often marginalised group" and added that under principles enshrined in the NHS Constitution, "medical intervention should be therapeutic, consensual, confidential".

"I just don't see that's compatible with using the benefits system to require people to undergo a complex form of drug treatment intervention," he said.

The idea was raised in a Home Office consultation paper on the Government's drug strategy for England, Wales and Scotland.

The Labour government planned a series of pilot schemes this year to help drug users to kick their habits and return to work. They included applying sanctions to addicts who failed to attend treatment awareness programmes.

But the Social Security Advisory Committee warned the pilot could cause "significant harm".

n The consultation proposals published yesterday also outlined Government plans to impose year-long bans to get new legal highs off the market while a review of their potential harm is carried out.