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UK Addicts Must Get Treatment or Lose Benefits

A new austerity law will require jobless addicts to submit to treatment or risk losing their unemployment pay.

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Jobless addicts in the UK face tougher choices.
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By Fionna Agomuoh

05/23/12

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British law is controversially set to demand that addicts receiving public assistance submit to treatment, or risk losing their unemployment benefits. Under a tougher new regime, reflecting the coalition government's austerity policy during the ongoing Euro crisis, those claiming Britain's relatively-generous unemployment pay will have to sign a contract agreeing to look for work while receiving public help. And local unemployment staff will be able report suspected addicts—if they refuse the addiction treatment offered, they'll lose their benefits. The reforms are due to take effect in October 2013. But many addiction organizations strongly oppose the plan, saying it discriminates against addicts. "In no other area of health would we see such an approach being taken," argues Niamh Eastwood, chief executive of the charity Release. "But again and again successive governments seek to stigmatize further those with addiction, who are often vulnerable and marginalized individuals." Others fear that the reform will make people hesitate to seek help, or that the loss of public support will cause addicts to spiral deeper into dependency. A group of charity bosses agrees that referrals to treatment can benefit addicts who may not otherwise have that lifeline, but that taking away their financial stability can be counterproductive. "Incentives are only part of the story," says Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern. "The real answer is to make sure that high quality treatment services are fully funded and available all over the country." 

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