Obesity and drug problems included in review of sickness benefit

People who are obese or have alcohol or drug problems resulting in them not being able to work could have their sickness benefits cut if they refuse treatment, says David Cameron.

The PM has launched a wide reaching review of the current system because some 100,000 people with such conditions claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). However, he says, this fails to encourage people with long-term, treatable issues to get medical help. There is currently no requirement for people with such health problems to undertake treatment.

ESA was brought in during 2008 in place of incapacity benefit and income support and is paid when someone has illness or disability. It does require claimants to undergo a work capability assessment to assess the degree to which their illness or disability impacts their ability to work.

Around 60% of the 2.5 million people claiming the ESA benefit have been on in for now for more than 5 years.



The PM has asked Prof Dame Carol Black, already an adviser to the Department of Health, to carry out the review of policies and allowances.

Whilst launching the proposed review, Mr Cameron commented “Some have drug or alcohol problems, but refuse treatment. In other cases people have problems with their weight that could be addressed – but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice. It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work.”

Mark Harper, Disabilities Minister, said people who were overweight or had alcohol or drug problems needed treatment to get back to work.

Dame Carol said she was keen to “overcome the challenges” posed by the current system. “These people, in addition to their long-term conditions and lifestyle issues, suffer the great disadvantage of not being engaged in the world of work, such an important feature of society.”



However, the proposed review and policy changes have been challenged from many quarters.

Campaigners said it was “naive” to think overweight people did not want to change and Labour said the policy would no nothing to help people off benefits.

Susannah Gilbert, co-founder of online obesity support group Big Matters, claimed the proposed policy changes “wouldn’t be feasible”. She went on to say: “I think it’s naive to think that people don’t want to change their life. Many of them have tried every diet under the sun and they still have a weight problem, so to think they don’t want to have help isn’t true.”

The Labour MP, Kate Green, who’s also shadow minister for disabled people, pointed out that the numbers claiming sickness benefits had risen under the present Government. She said: “David Cameron’s government has stripped back funding for drug support programmes and their Work Programme has helped just 7% of people back to work, so it is clear the Tory plan isn’t working. Today’s announcement does nothing to help people off benefits and into work while the government continues to fail to clamp down on tax avoiders and offshore tax havens.”



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