The government has threatened to deprive alcoholics of their basic benefits unless they sober up and go back to work, it has emerged.
The secretary of state for work and pensions, James Purnell, today announced the government would explore how the existing benefits system for drug addicts can be extended to alcohol abusers.
Currently heroin and crack addicts get treatment in return for benefits, rather than just receiving money which can be used to feed a drug problem, Purnell said.
He added: “We will actually help [drug users] rather than simply handing them money which ends up in the pockets of drug dealers.
“But we can’t abandon anyone to long periods on benefits without help to overcome problems. So that’s why we are going to look at the arrangements for alcoholics on benefits, just as we did for problem drug users, so that people get the help they need to get sober, to get their life back and get back to work.”
In last year’s welfare reform white paper, the Department for Work and Pensions pledged to introduce a drug and employment support programme, under which problem heroin or crack cocaine users would be required to undergo treatment and rehabilitation in return for benefits.
The current Welfare Reform Bill includes provisions to require claimants to be interviewed about their drug use, and if necessary, answer questions about any treatment they may be receiving. They could also be required to undertake an assessment if it is felt their drug use is affecting their work prospects.
Those who fail to turn up to assessments could be required to undertake drug tests to determine their level of use, under the provisions.
However, Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions secretary Steve Webb said: “Threatening to deprive people of their basic benefits unless they recover from alcoholism is fundamentally inhumane. There are far too few support services for alcoholics, and there is no evidence that people who are threatened in this way are more likely to seek help.”