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Benefits clampdown on heroin and crack users

Nearly 267,000 heroin and crack users are on benefits and will be required to own up to their drug problems and take treatment – or lose their money, James Purnell the work and pensions secretary, will say today.

He will also announce measures that may take as many as 200,000 families out of child poverty.

The radical proposals, contained in a welfare green paper to be published today were welcomed by David Cameron. The Conservative leader said he was thrilled with the Purnell green paper and promised to support it in the Commons, adding he thought it could take a million people off incapacity benefit.

Cameron will present his own scheme on Wednesday to help an extra 100,000 mainly unskilled males find worthwhile jobs through apprenticeships.

Research from the Department of Work and Pensions shows 66,000 drug users are accessing job seekers allowance in England, 146,000 are in receipt of income support and 87,000 receive incapacity benefit. The figures cover only England in 2006, suggesting the UK-wide figure is well over 300,000.

In London, 66,000 of 703,000 claimants are either on heroin or crack cocaine, the DWP research suggests. Purnell plans to make it a requirement for these drug users to seek treatment.

Problem drug users largely do not own up to their addiction when they seek benefits, according to the DWP study. Nearly 7% of all benefit claimants are problem drug users, it finds.

Chris Grayling, the shadow work secretary, described the statistics as “profoundly depressing, but they also underline the need for a much more robust approach to our welfare system. Drug addicts should not be allowed to claim benefits unconditionally.”

In the green paper Purnell seeks to strike a balance between imposing responsibilities and granting new rights to some claimant, especially those with disabilities.

He will highlight plans to take up to 200,000 households out of child poverty largely by introducing “a full disregard” in child maintenance payments from April 2010. Any child maintenance payments parents receive will not be taken into account when calculating how much out-of-work benefit they should get.

Purnell is also placing fresh requirements on lone parents with children as young as five to prepare themselves for work.

He will set out medium-term plans to abolish income support so that eventually claimants are put on one of two benefits: employment support allowance for the sick and job seekers allowance for those capable of working, or temporarily unable to work due to care responsibilities.

One of the most radical proposals, requiring those on JSA for more than two years as well as benefit cheats to work for their dole, is estimated to potentially affect only about 5,000 people.

The enthusiastic backing of the Conservatives is likely to ensure the proposals become law.

David Willetts, the shadow skills and higher education secretary, will publish a £100m plan to offer small and medium size firms a £2,000 bonus for each trainee who completes an apprenticeship.

Willetts said: “Our recommendations are aimed at improving social mobility. Many of our social problems stem from the disengagement of young people, and we want to provide more opportunities, particularly to young men, to get them off the streets and on their way in life.”
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source: guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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