The threat by David Cameron to force claimants to accept treatment for drug and alcohol dependency or obesity or lose benefits has been abandoned following a report by Dame Carol Black published this week. However, the report contains other worrying proposals
Small chance of employment
Black’s report argues that forcing people to undertake treatment for drug or alcohol dependency or face losing their benefits is not a viable option. The primary reason for this is that employers believe that hiring people in recovery “can present an unacceptable risk to their business”. So, even if treatment is successful, the chances of moving into work are small without a dramatic change in employers’ attitudes.
The report also notes that if treatment was mandatory more claimants would hide their addiction and that there were serious concerns about the “legal and ethical implications of mandating treatment”, as well as doubts about the cost effectiveness of doing so.
However, the report also contains recommendations that will alarm many involved in the treatment of addiction.
It suggests, for example, that Jobcentre Plus staff be placed in addiction treatment centres and that treatment providers success be measured in part by whether they get people who are in recovery into work.
However, treatment for addiction may well involve people disclosing episodes in their past which they would not consider revealing to anyone in authority. Many recovering addicts would be extremely reluctant to discuss such issues in an agency that allowed Jobcentre staff onto its premises.
In addition, claimants who have been dependent on substances for years may well need to concentrate on their recovery for many months before they will be able to cope with the stress of a return to work. Pushing such people into work prematurely may simply result in a relapse.
Obese claimants targeted for action
In relation to obesity, the report reveals that just 1,600 ESA claimants have obesity as their main disabling condition – a tiny proportion. It also points out that employment rates for people who are obese is as high as for the general population. Only severely obese people have significantly lower levels of employment.
However, this does not prevent Black from wanting to target obese claimants on the grounds that
“Obese and severely obese people are over-represented amongst the sick and disabled” and that “there are as many as approximately 800,000 recipients with a main disabling condition for which obesity could have been a contributory factor.”
Black recommends that “the Government commissions research to investigate the impact of obesity on the working population and the extent to which obesity plays a role in health-related benefit claims, in particular long-term ones.”
The research, Black says, will help the government to understand the “the true labour market costs of the obesity epidemic and help build a case (if justified) for further societal, employer and government action.”
Claimants know only too well the kind of societal and government action they can expect: hate campaigns whipped up by the DWP press office and the media against obese claimants to justify whatever mandatory work or training programmes the DWP believes will cut claimant numbers.