Government to consider benefit sanctions for refusing treatment

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The government has re-ignited the debate over whether benefit entitlement should be linked to accepting treatment, with the publication of a new review by Professor Dame Carol Black. Couched in terms of exploring the best ways to ‘support benefit claimants with addictions and potentially treatable conditions’ – such as obesity – back into work, the review will consider ‘the case for linking benefit entitlements to accepting appropriate treatment or support’.

A consultation has been launched to consider the evidence, the results of which will form part of a final report to be published later in the year. Similar plans considered by the last Labour government proved controversial and did not become law.

The independent review will ‘explore the support provided by the existing benefit system and the incentives/barriers created’, says the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), as well as assess the ‘cost to taxpayers and the economy of worklessness resulting from obesity and addictions’. It will also look at the availability of treatment and study international practice to provide ‘fully costed, robust and deliverable recommendations’ and analysis of the available options.

The review will fully consider the ‘legal, ethical and other implications’ of linking benefit entitlements to the take up of treatment, the government states, and will consult ‘a wide range’ of health and addiction professionals. A steering group will also be established with representatives from DWP, Home Office, Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and others, and the government has said it wants to hear from ‘individuals who have experienced these conditions or any relevant aspects of the health and benefits systems’.

Harmful drinking is estimated to cost around £3.5bn a year to the NHS and £11bn to the criminal justice system, while the review puts the ‘societal costs’ of drug addiction at more than £15bn. Previous research had found one in 15 working-age benefit claimants to be dependent on heroin or crack, says the document, and one in 25 to be suffering from alcohol dependency.

‘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,’ said David Cameron. ‘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 of sickness benefit and into work, and Carol Black will report back to me on how best to achieve that.’

An independent review into the impact on employment outcomes of drug or alcohol addiction, and obesity: call for evidence at www.gov.uk. Consultation closes on 11 September.