September 2014 – Treatment Sanctions Raise Their Head Again
Regular readers of our news items will recall that some time ago plans were announced to cut benefits for people with addictions who refused to take part in rehabilitation programmes. The idea was dropped but has re-emerged, this time launched by The Centre for Social Justice.
It has recommended that the government carry out a pilot of a 'welfare card' - under which a proportion of benefit income has to be spent on essentials such as food, housing and clothing - for benefit claimants who refuse to engage in treatment for an addiction.
This is a more developed version of the original plan but not surprisingly has a lot in common with the original version – after all the CSJ was founded by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith in 2004. Among the many proposals are that
The government should ensure that the welfare system does all it can to identify when people are suffering from an addiction and then offer and encourage them to accept treatment
In a local area with an effective abstinence-based residential treatment system which has spare capacity, a pilot should be conducted to test the effectiveness of incentivising treatment with enhanced employment and support allowance (ESA) for those with an identified addiction
Claimants who had been identified as having an addiction would be offered abstinence-based treatment and, if they accepted this, they would be placed in a suitable benefit category (perhaps the ESA support group) and have their conditionality suspended
However, if a claimant declined the offer of treatment and refused to show willingness to 'face up to' their addiction, they could then be placed on a lower category of benefit
Claimants could also be required to take steps towards their own rehabilitation as agreed with their jobcentre advisers - for example, a treatment awareness programme, educational session or specific interviews - with failure to comply with the agreed terms resulting in a sanction
It remains to be seen whether this coerced approach to treatment will fare any better than its predecessor.
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