Get treatment or lose benefits, addicts warned

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Drugs addicts who refuse treatment will be stripped of their benefits if they fail to meet the normal requirements for support, the Home Office said today.

They will be expected to "comply with the full requirements of the benefits regime or face the consequences" under the Government's drugs strategy.

But users who are taking steps to become drug-free will be offered tailored support to get them back to work.

The strategy sees a shift in focus from reducing the harms caused by drugs to recovery as the most effective route out of dependency, Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said.

"In practice, this means that those not in treatment will neither be specifically targeted with, nor excused from, sanctions by virtue of their dependence, but will be expected to comply with the full requirements of the benefits regime or face the consequences," the strategy said.

"Where people are taking steps to address their dependence, they will be supported, and the requirements placed upon them will be appropriate to their personal circumstances and will provide them with the necessary time and space to focus on their recovery."

Mr Brokenshire said: "There are no quick fixes. What we want to achieve is a generational shift, to get people to take responsibility for their actions and free themselves from the vicious cycle of drug and alcohol dependency."

Work and Pensions minister Maria Miller added: "This strategy will take a holistic approach to helping benefit claimants beat their drug and alcohol dependency, so they have every chance of competing in today's labour market.

"Those who decide to go into treatment will be offered every support to help overcome their addiction, but those who refuse it will face the same benefit sanctions as every other jobseeker.

"Our welfare reforms will support this strategy by making sure that work always pays."

Pilot schemes run on a payment-by-results basis will be used to "incentivise recovery and drive success", the Government said.

Other measures in today's White Paper - Reducing Demand, Restricting Supply, Building Recovery - will reshape drug treatment services in prisons to focus on recovery and improve treatment in the community for offenders on their release.

Powers for year-long bans for the latest legal highs will also be brought in, along with an early warning system to help stop potentially harmful new drugs gaining a foothold in the UK.

An impact assessment found the new plans were likely to cut the number of prison places needed, reduce drug-related crime, and lower the costs of drug-related health and social care services.

It is also expected to lead to "savings in transfer and welfare payments".

But it said: "We cannot monetise these benefits because of the early phase of policy development."

The full costs and benefits of the plans to enforce benefit rules, roll out recovery champions and offer employment support will be included in the Department for Work and Pensions' work programme, expected to be published next year.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: "Over the next four years, we are determined to break the cycle of dependence on drugs and alcohol and the wasted opportunities that result.

"This strategy sets out our clear ambition to reduce demand, restrict supply and support and achieve recovery; they are stretching but I am convinced that they can be achieved."

The drugs strategy added that an estimated 80% of heroin and crack cocaine users were on benefits, "often for many years and their drug use presents a significant barrier to employment".

"Our aim is to increase the number of drug and alcohol-dependent benefit claimants who successfully engage with treatment and rehabilitation services and ultimately find employment, which is a key contributor to a sustained recovery."

It went on: "For too many people currently on a substitute prescription, what should be the first step on the journey to recovery risks ending there. This must change.

"We will ensure that all those on a substitute prescription engage in recovery activities."

Simon Antrobus, chief executive of the treatment charity Addaction, said the policy was "rightly ambitious".

"We are pleased to see it recognise that a number of approaches are needed to tackle the devastating impact that drugs and alcohol have on society - and the increased focus on supporting people to recover from their addictions," he said.

"It also recognises that people who have overcome their own problems can offer a vital support and mentoring role to others.

"When it works, it can greatly enhance the chances of someone successfully achieving long-term recovery."

Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' faculty of addictions, also welcomed the plans, including the "renewed ambition for people with substance misuse problems to move through treatment and into sustained recovery".

"Accessible, high quality treatment, based on sound evidence, is vital in helping people with substance misuse problems fulfil their recovery potential," he said.

Roger Howard, chief executive of the UK Drug Policy Commission, said the stigma around recovering drug users will need to be tackled if the strategy is to work.

But Danny Kushlick, of the campaign group Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which wants to regulate drug use, criticised the Government's policy, which dismissed legalisation or decriminalisation as the way forward.

"The deckchairs on the Titanic have been repainted with the word Recovery - the Government's new buzzword, hiding catastrophic failure," he said.

"The war on drugs is set to continue for the duration of this Parliament."

Paul Hayes, chief executive of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA), said: "We must become more ambitious for all those seeking treatment for drug and alcohol problems and offer them a route out of dependency.

"This can only happen if we consider the needs of the whole person and work closely with partners in training and employment, housing and family support, wider health services and the criminal justice sector to provide seamless support throughout.

"The task is challenging but, by encouraging these individuals to recover and start contributing to society, we can bring about huge change in our local communities making them better, healthier and safer places in which to live and work."