Daily Archives: 08/03/2015

£435MILLION in sickness benefit handed to drunks and junkies

Can you tell by the headline which newspaper this report comes from?  Why is it I feel my blood pressure start to rise when I see a Daily Wail news story?

£435MILLION in sickness benefit handed to drunks and junkies, with 75,000 signed off work for their addictions given up to £108 a week

I am going to pick my way through this article like a soldier walking through a field of landmines and will try to redress some of the screaming hysteria with a more balanced and compassionate view for those struggling with addiction.  Here goes ……..

Figures uncovered by this newspaper show there were 1,921,340 people across Britain on sickness benefits – now known as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – in 2013-14, receiving annual payments totalling £10.4billion.  Of these, 46,810 received the payment mainly because of their alcohol misuse and a further 28,440 had a ‘primary disabling condition’ of drug addiction. The alcoholics received £249.8million in ESA and the drug addicts £156.7 million.

Thousands of other addicts who are unemployed but deemed fit to work receive Jobseeker’s Allowance of £72.40 a week. Shockingly, the statistics obtained under Freedom of Information laws reveal that some of the addicts are teenagers. There were 1,030 alcoholics aged between 18 and 24 receiving ESA.  The greatest number of alcoholics on sickness benefit live in Glasgow (400), followed by Manchester (290), Edinburgh (250), Birmingham (200) and Bristol (190).

A Department for Work and Pensions document admits the proportion of alcoholics getting ESA ‘has remained largely unchanged’ while the number of drug addicts in the system has fallen by just 0.5 percentage points. This is despite the supposedly tough Work Capability Assessment, introduced to find out what activities claimants can take part in, as well as to weed out undeserving claimants.

The assessments are only meant to help people who have serious conditions that leave them unable to work. One recent case, however, shows that a drinker originally deemed to be simply lazy has been allowed to claim ESA. Court papers seen by The Mail on Sunday show that the 30-year-old lives with his mother in Glasgow and had been paid sickness benefit for eight years when he was told to apply again under the new system.

He admitted he had no trouble with physical functions but had ‘no motivation to… get up, get dressed, get washed etc’ and that ‘my mother does almost everything for me’.

A nurse who interviewed the unnamed man said he ‘would drink ten to 12 cans of lager daily’ and had ‘anxiety and depression’ as well as ‘alcohol misuse’ for a decade – but added that his minimal activity ‘appears to be through choice rather than illness’.

He was initially refused ESA but appealed. In January 2013 a three-judge panel ruled that alcohol dependency did count as a ‘specific disease or bodily or mental disablement’ even if it was ‘self-inflicted’.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service confirmed last night that the man has since won a fresh hearing and is now receiving sickness benefit.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: ‘This Government has set out to change the way drug treatment is perceived and delivered – above all prioritising full recovery rather than short-term fixes.

‘There is an increasing rate of people coming out of rehab who have successfully completed treatment and left entirely drug-free – with the latest statistics showing a rise of 15,000 people in England compared to 5 years earlier.’

So the news article’s journalist finds one person to focus on and then extrapolates out from there that this applies to all who have a dependence issue?  And you can pinpoint exactly where these clusters of people are.  Pity the govt can’t recognise that drug and alcohol service provision in these places are vitally important then and increase funding to help those who need help rather than what is actually happening which is a wholesale slashing of budgets.

But oh no it is just easier to stand in judgement, tutting and wagging your finger than it is trying to understand why this young man chooses to live this way.  And if he is drinking 10-12 cans a day he probably is physically addicted to alcohol, which is an illness and needs medical detox support to help him stop and to prevent life-threatening side effects.  It is this kind of stigmatising language and journalistic judgement that prevents people from coming forward and asking for help.  How many of the Daily Mail readership may actually have an alcohol dependence themselves?  This needs to change if we are ever going to resolve this countries polarising attitude to drink and support and treatment of those who develop a dependency to this addictive substance.

Is it just me who finds the Daily Mail and its writing enraging?