Lose weight or lose benefits: Cameron tells obese

David Cameron south-east Asia visit - Day 2
David Cameron south-east Asia visit - Day 2

People with 'preventable' conditions like addiction and obesity, who refuse to get treatment, could have their benefits cut. David Cameron is considering the approach - starting with a review into how much the government spends dealing with the effects of obesity and drug and alcohol addition.

He is expecting the results of the review to give him the firepower he needs to force people on benefits to seek treatment - or risk losing their payments. Eventually the aim is to reduce the number of people claiming disability benefits because of these conditions - or the long term effects of them.

At the moment around 90,000 people claim benefits because of drug and alcohol addition, and 1,800 receive incapacity benefit largely because of a weight-related issue. All of these claimants could be required to get treatment, or risk losing their payments.

None of this is set in stone just yet - it was first suggested in February when it was just targeted at obese people - so it has mushroomed since then.
Is this a good idea?

Cameron has been keen to claim this isn't intended to punish people with these conditions - just to encourage them to seek help. The review will also look at the support available, including the incentives for companies employing people recovering from these conditions.

Clearly this move could end up being positive - both for those helped to break away from addictions and for the Treasury. However, it comes with risks.

Already these groups are considered fair game for discrimination, verbal abuse, and public taunting by the media and the wider population. However, we know that obesity, drug and alcohol abuse are often linked to other underlying problems, ranging from mental health issues, to poverty and exclusion.

By publicising what a financial burden on society they are - and bringing in punishments for these groups - there's the question of whether the government is tacitly sanctioning discrimination and inciting ill feeling.

Then, of course, there are people for whom drug, alcohol or food issues are part of a wider problem, which means they are unable to reliably seek treatment. They will simply have a reduced income to add to their problems.

Money wasted?

You also have to ask just how effective these treatments will be. There are plenty of studies into the effectiveness of treatment for drug and alcohol addition where it is enforced by the authorities. Their findings range wildly. However, there are some consistent results, including the fact that people who don't see themselves as having a problem - who are forced into it before they are ready - are highly unlikely to get any benefit from treatment.

There's a chance that this measure could transform some people's lives, and save taxpayers money. However, there's also a real risk that all this process achieves is further stigmatising people, wasting taxpayers money on ineffective treatments, and denying benefits to people who cannot get help.

Cameron needs to ask himself whether he is willing to take this risk.

But what do you think? Do you think this policy is a good idea? Let us know in the comments.

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