The picture above has appeared on my Facebook timeline a lot over the past couple of years. It is always there because a friend of mine has Iiked it meaning, by extension, that they agree with the idea of automatic drug testing for welfare claimants.
Now, I’ll start by saying that I have a deal of sympathy with the reasoning behind wanting this. Why would we want state funding for illegal drug use and the illegal drug trade? Why would we want to see money meant to allow people to live when they have fallen on hard times be wasted on drugs?
There is a higher than average proportion of benefit claimants who are problem drug users and an estimated 100,000 of these are not getting any treatment. It is an issue and one which needs to be addressed.
However, is compulsory drug testing of welfare recipients the answer? Let’s assume for a moment that the idea is testing of those on means tested benefits, not universal ones like Child Benefit or State Pension. So, are we testing all those on Tax Credits (which will include most of the people I know who agree with this idea)? They are welfare recipients and “want” to be so as they have voluntarily completed an application for the Tax Credits they receive.
I’ll assume, again, that this is not a form of welfare people are thinking of. I’ll assume that forms of unemployment benefit are the ones meant. So, will that include disability, incapacity, sickness or carers’ benefits? Benefits meant for people who cannot work, rather than those who are able to but, for whatever reason, aren’t working? This would seem rather churlish, especially as many of the people on these benefits are physically or mentally incapable of becoming drug users or, in the case of carers, are actually fulfilling a role which saves the state money.
So, I assume, yet again, that what is really meant is drug testing for those on Income Support or low income benefits. Well, my first question to anybody who suggests this is whether they, if they were unfortunate enough to find themselves out of work, would be happy to undergo compulsory drug testing. I suspect that, although they would go ahead with it, they would feel rather uncomfortable and demeaned further by the insinuation and invasion of the process.
Also, as of the latest figures in May 2014, there are 2.47 million ESA claimants and 5.2 million working age benefit claimants in the UK. Who pays for the testing? Not just the kits, but the human resourcing and facilities for the tests to take place? How often do the tests take place?
And what happens if a test is failed? Do they lose benefits completely and live on… well, nothing? Or do they undergo compulsory rehab? If so, who pays for that?
Suddenly this is frighteningly expensive or frighteningly inhuman. Either way, although the suggestion is borne from genuine concern and a real issue, it is more of a knee-jerk reaction to the current fad of demonising those on benefits than it is of trying to solve a real human problem.
Addiction is an illness. Like all illnesses it requires treatment and work on both sides to overcome. I am no expert in this field, but it seems to me that those who are experts are probably in a much better position to come up with a workable solution than I am. Or people posting a photo on Facebook are. Or politicians who have spent the last five years cutting funding for drug rehab projects are.
Let’s start getting the right people suggesting solutions for problems and stop letting our own prejudices get in the way of that.