Page last updated at 18:04 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 19:04 UK

Alcoholics could see benefits cut

A man drinking a pint of beer
The government hopes to get alcoholics on benefits back to work

Alcoholics face having their benefits docked if they do not get treatment, under government plans.

Minister James Purnell has announced a review into the idea to be carried out jointly by the Department of Health and Department for Work and Pensions.

Measures that require drug addicts to get treatment in order to keep receiving benefits are currently going through Parliament.

The Conservatives said Labour had failed to "get to grips" with welfare.

Critics - including an addiction treatment charity and reformed alcoholic - say they doubt the measures will help addicts recover.

Mr Purnell said the government wanted to help people get the assistance they needed.

Speaking on a visit to Dewsbury Moor in West Yorkshire, he said: "We have introduced a new policy that will mean heroin and crack addicts get treatment in return for benefits.

"We will actually help them rather than simply handing them money which ends up in pockets of drug dealers.

The government has had more than a decade to sort this problem out so this is too little, too late
Theresa May, shadow work and pensions secretary

"But we can't abandon anyone to long periods on benefits without help to overcome problems.

"So that's why we are going to look at the arrangements for alcoholics on benefits, just as we did for problem drug users, so that people get the help they need to get sober, to get their life back and get back to work."

Mr Purnell has previously said that the plans to cut drug addicts' benefits would give them the chance to "turn their lives around".

Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said this latest review was "another smokescreen" to "deflect from Labour's failure to get to grips with our welfare system".

She added: "Under James Purnell the system has gone into meltdown with more than 100,000 people claiming benefits because they are drug addicts or alcoholics. That's more than doubled from 48,700 since 1997.

"The government has had more than a decade to sort this problem out so this is too little, too late.

"The devil is always in the detail with Labour. Mr Purnell has failed to say when this will happen, how much it will cost and who it will exactly help."

'Fundamentally inhumane'

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Steve Webb said the plans were "no more than typical New Labour posturing".

He added: "Threatening to deprive people of their basic benefits unless they recover from alcoholism is fundamentally inhumane.

How people live their lives is none of the government's business as long as it's within the law
Lee, UK

"There are far too few support services for alcoholics, and there is no evidence that people who are threatened in this way are more likely to seek help."

A spokesman for drug and alcohol treatment charity Addaction said that, historically, help for people with alcohol problems was under-funded.

"We support measures to get treatment to the people who need it, but that treatment needs proper funding to be effective," he said.

"Stopping someone's benefits could have a real impact on any children they may have. It's essential that families are taken into account when such decisions are being made."

One reformed alcoholic - who gave her name only as Linda - said she stopped drinking 18 years ago, having sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous.

"I went onto benefits when I stopped drinking. I was so grateful that the government paid me incapacity benefit and gave me the help I needed," she told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

She said alcoholism was an illness which could not be "bullied" away.

"I only stopped when the time was right for me. I couldn't be bullied or cajoled or told to stop drinking," she added.

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