It has been reported this week that the Government is considering a new proposal to reduce or withdraw benefits from alcoholics who will not go into rehab. A similar scheme has been rolled out for heroin and crack users, and appears to be producing concrete improvements in treatment rates.
It would seem common sense to create incentives to get alcoholics into treatment. Criticism has, of course, poured in. This proposal has been labelled 'too little, too late' and even 'inhumane'. It's true that New Labour's record on welfare is shocking, but I think this is a step in the direction, even if it is a glacially slow step.
As for this being inhumane, anyone who has lived with an alcoholic will tell you that there is nothing more inhumane than having to watch someone you love and care about destroy themselves, sometimes in spite of knowing they need help. Alcoholics holding out their hand for benefits which will ultimately end up in the cash register at the liquor shop gets us nowhere, and certainly isn't giving taxpayers good value for the billions that get pumped into the welfare system every year.
It is most important that there is a saftey net for those who are most vulnerable in society, but there also have to be incentives and repercussions in order to steer addicts off the booze and drugs and onto the straight and narrow and, eventually, into work. I did an interview on this earlier this week, and in the voxpop beforehand, one of the listeners said: "I was an alcoholic for years, and I managed to clean up and get on with it. Luckily I didn't lose my job. But I'll be damned if I am going to see my tax money paying for other people to get drunk all day."
Crucially, this proposal isn't saying take away all benefits from all alcoholics. Once an alcoholic agrees to go into treatment, the state will help them. But if they repeatedly refuse, they will have their benefits (which are ultimately a privilege) removed.
In order to help cure our social ills, we need both the carrot and the stick. For far too long, this Government has molly-coddled and nannyed people, with no consequences if they do not reform their behaviour. Behaviour which, of course, costs taxpayers a fortune every year. It's good to finally see a welfare proposal with some backbone.