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Drug addicts 'could lose benefits'

Drug addicts who refuse treatment could have their welfare benefits withdrawn, it has been reported.

The Home Office is considering some form of "financial benefit sanction" for claimants who fail to address their drug or alcohol dependency, the BBC said.

It would mark the revival of a scheme planned by the previous Labour government aimed at helping get drug users back into work.

Social security advisers have warned such a move could drive addicts back into a life of crime.

The idea is said to be in a consultation paper on the Government's drug strategy for England, Wales and Scotland. A spokesman for the Home Office was unable to comment on the proposal.

The Labour government planned a series of pilot schemes this year to help drug users kick their habits and return to work. They included applying sanctions to addicts who failed to attend treatment awareness programmes, and increased powers for the criminal justice system to help identify problem drug users not in treatment.

But the Social Security Advisory Committee - a statutory body - warned the pilot could cause "significant harm" including the "disengagement of problem drug users from the welfare to work system with...negative economic and social impacts".

And Martin Barnes, chief executive of charity DrugScope, said: "The benefit system can and indeed does have a very important role in terms of advice and support to encourage people both to access treatment and employment.

"But we seriously question both the fairness and the effectiveness of actually using the stick of compulsion - benefit sanctions - to link a requirement to undergo medical treatment with a condition of receipt of benefit."

"I just don't see that's compatible with using the benefits system to require people to undergo a complex form of drug treatment intervention," he said.

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