Iain Duncan Smith has revealed that people with drink and drug problems cost the taxpayer £10.1 billion a year. He quoted the statistics from the Lankelly Chase Foundation as he launched a new government scheme aimed at getting people help through the Universal Support system, so they can get back to work. A cynic might suggest this was all part of a larger plan to cut benefits.
On the face of it, this sounds like a well-meaning attempt to help addicts get their lives back on track. We know that one in 15 people on benefits has a drug problem, and one in 25 have a problem with alcohol, which often stands in the way of holding down a job. The new policy will try to support people with addiction issues in order to get them back to work.
The initiative, announced yesterday, will be based in Job Centres. Staff will identify people with addiction problems, and refer them for treatment, mental health support and other services. The Job Centre will work with the individual until they are fit for work, and during their return.
Duncan Smith said: "Too often in the past, people with complex barriers such as addiction, indebtedness or homelessness were written off to a life on benefits. Through Universal Support we are putting an end to this, and offering wraparound support for those that need it."
Critics have already highlighted that the devil will be in the detail. There have been those who question whether the Job Centre is the right place for a nuanced decision related to health and addiction.
Then there are the findings of the many studies into whether drug and alcohol treatment can be effective when it is enforced by the authorities. The findings of these studies range wildly. However, there is a broad consensus that people who are forced into treatment before they are ready are unlikely to get any benefit from it. There is the chance, therefore, that this scheme will force people into an expensive and ineffective scheme.
Then there's the much more threatening risk that what has been announced is merely stage one. When this approach was first mentioned back in 2012, there was also discussion about the sanctions that would be put in place for those who refused treatment - including the possibility that people could lose their benefits.
The subject came up again in July last year. At that point David Cameron launched a review of the issues. One of the questions the consultation asked was "What are the legal, ethical and other implications of linking benefit entitlements to take up of appropriate treatment or support?"
It raises the question as to whether, in order to deflect criticism, the government has decided to adopt the policy in two stages. There's always the possibility that the support and help will come first, which will garner far less attention and raise fewer concerns. Then once that's accepted, the sanctions could be introduced.
But what do you think? Is this a great idea offering support to addicts, or is this another step along the road to sanctions and cuts? Let us know in the comments.