Welfare reform: taking benefits from addicts
May 24, 2012
I didn’t’ mean to write this blog, but the news that IDS wants to dock benefits from alcohol and drug users caught my attention. A couple of weekends ago, I spent my Saturday morning chatting to a group of men who are currently in drug and alcohol recovery as part of a research project I’ve been doing with CLES.
We met them at the regular drop in Saturday breakfast club where they are able to come in for a cooked breakfast and a chat with the volunteers, many of which are recovering addicts, as well as the chance to catch up with others in the same situation.
The people I spoke to did not meet the crude stereotypes portrayed in the press, but were bright, articulate and charismatic, eager to debate and discuss issues of the economy, local services and welfare reform. One by one, we heard how successful lives had slowly been eaten away by a growing dependence on alcohol and drugs. Often triggered by relationship breakdown, these men found themselves with no home, no friends and no hope. In this vacuum, they turned to drugs and alcohol.
Take Peter, he was married for ten years, ran a successful business, worked abroad on a number of big contracts, had a great house, a good life. Upon his return to the UK, his marriage fell apart, he lost his home along with contact with friends and family as a result of the break-up. Everything went slowly downhill as he became increasingly drawn to addiction in order to escape from the misery of how his life had collapsed.
Or Daniel who, after leaving school, took the opportunity to move out to Canada where his mum and sister live and got himself a job. But after six months, he became homesick and decided to return in order to take care of his father who had become ill. At the same time he moved in with his partner but they subsequently split up. This relationship breakdown, coupled with the death of his father left him alone and isolated. With the rest of his close family still in Canada, he had no one to turn to and became dependent on alcohol.
For many of these men, even those who have managed to slowly get on top of their addiction, the future still seems bleak. They feel worthless and alone. They live in poor quality short-term hostel accommodation which they described as ‘life-sucking’. Some of them do work, all cash in hand, a trend that they felt would only increase as the squeeze on benefits progressed.
I have no doubt that the government’s proposals to dock benefits from those suffering from addiction will fail not only in terms of the individual but the public purse. By effectively abandoning addicts to their fate, we disengage and cast them adrift. With few options left, many may find themselves in the criminal justice system, in hospitals and GP surgeries, homeless on the street, creating antisocial behaviour – in short, costing the state and communities far more than might otherwise have been the case.
(All names have been changed to protect identities)