Number Of Drug Addicts & Alcoholics On Incapacity Benefit Is On Rise

The number of alcoholics and drug addicts claiming incapacity benefit has doubled since Labour came to power. New figures show that the situation has got worse this year, despite the Government’s claim to be getting to grips with Britain’s “sick note” culture.

Nearly 100,000 people – or one in 25 of all incapacity benefit claimants – now say that they are unfit to work because of drug or alcohol problems.

Labour will introduce its welfare reform bill in the Commons next week in a bid to get the one million people on the benefit who say they want to work, back into jobs.

But the Tories last night criticised the failure of ministers to combat the growing number of people with drug and alcohol problems who are out of the workplace and warned that the new legislation will do little to reduce the numbers.

Anne Maguire, the minister for the disabled admitted, in a written parliamentary answer: “As at February 2006, there were 48,960 incapacity benefit and severe disablement allowance claimants whose primary diagnosis was alcoholism, and 48,530 incapacity benefit and severe disablement allowance claimants whose primary diagnosis was drug abuse.”

That makes a total of 97,490 people claiming for their addiction.

In 1997 just 27,900 people claimed incapacity benefit on grounds of alcoholism – an 80 per cent rise since Labour came to power.

The figures for drug dependence have soared by 121 per cent since 1997 – up from 21,900 claimants per year.

Shadow welfare reform minister David Ruffley said last night: ‘The number of people claiming Incapacity Benefit on grounds of alcoholism, drug misuse and mental health problems are rising dramatically.

“This reflects the pressures of modern day living – gone are the days when the most common reason for incapacity was work related injuries or ‘bad back syndrome’.

“The pattern of incapacity is changing but the Government’s much heralded flagship Welfare Reform Bill does not contain effective measures to meet the needs of those with drug misuse and alcohol problems.

“These latest figures show that those who are trapped in dependency are not getting the support they need. That is just not good enough – it is not good for those who want to get off welfare and into work nor is it good for the taxpayer.”

John Penrose, the Tory MP for Weston-Super-Mare and a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, warned that more should be done to make addicts contribute to society.

He said: “Drug and alcohol addiction doesn’t just make addicts ill, it rips families apart and ruins neighbourhoods too. My constituency has more than 10 per cent of Britain’s drugs rehabs.

“If Government plans don’t include more high-quality treatment centres, addicts will never break their habits, never hold down jobs, never rejoin their families and never become contributing members of their communities either.”

Labour’s Welfare Reform Bill will update the ‘personal capability’ assessment used to decide whether claimants are fit to work. Those who are more severely disabled will receive a higher rate of benefit and have no obligation to look for work.

But those deemed well enough to work will have to take part in Pathways to Work initiatives designed to help them back into jobs.These will include counselling and training. Anyone refusing to take part could lose part of their benefits, ministers say.

DWP Spokesperson said: “For the first time the number of people claiming incapacity benefit is falling and this is due to the pilots and new approaches that have been adopted over recent years such as Pathways to Work.

“We are building on schemes such as these in order to help lift one million people off benefits and into work.

“However, these figures illustrate why we are bringing forward changes to the benefits system through the Welfare Reform Bill. The fact is that nearly half of those currently on Incapacity Benefit have mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, so it is right that the system is changed to reflect this and to be able to deal with it.

“This is about balancing the right of an individual to get help form the state with their responsibility to take advantage of the help and support available to get them back into work. No longer will people be left to a life on benefits.”