Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lindsay Mitchell: Welfare reform and drugs


Some people on the dole fail drug-tests and subsequently miss out on a job. So they stay on welfare. Is that OK?  The current government doesn't think so. That's why new legislation proposes sanctions - a reduction in benefit - when it happens. The legislation does not propose drug-testing all beneficiaries as a condition of eligibility for ongoing support. That's jungle drum stuff.

There's  another problem with benefits and substance abuse though. That's what to do about the 6,000 plus addicts on sickness and invalid benefits. The Minister is talking about compulsory rehab as a condition of support. Typically  this has been judged punitive by some, including health professionals. Apparently this proposal is manipulating the benefit system to control people's behaviour and shouldn't be entertained.

Yet until the mid-sixties that's exactly what social security did. Eligibility for an invalid's benefit ruled the recipient had to be "of good moral character and sober habits", and his "incapacity for work was not self-induced".  Is that so unreasonable? Personally I don't mind if people use alcohol or drugs, but not to the point where the taxpayer wears the financial consequences

And it isn't compassionate to indulge self-destructive behaviours. Sometimes hitting rock bottom is the cathartic experience needed to wake someone up.

Some say society must support addicts financially or they will commit crime to fund their habits. Do they seriously think a benefit income can support a heavy P habit? 3-4,000 people already cycle between welfare and prison every year, amongst them drug and/or alcohol addicts.

In any case benefits shouldn't be paid to protect communities from potential crime. That makes them no better than blackmail money. Give in to blackmail and sure as eggs, more will follow.

If a return to integrity in the system is wanted, the government is taking the right steps. The opposition isn't exactly bursting with better or braver ideas.

First published in The Truth, July 13.

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