Early last year it was mothers with mental health problems and disabled people who were to blame for child poverty, then it was step-parents and non-traditional families. IDS is hoping it’s third time lucky with his latest definition and has resorted to blaming the old Tory scapegoat of drug users. This is based on a DWP survey in which three quarters of people said that having a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol was a ‘very important’ factor in child poverty.
This has led the bungling Secretary of State to declare that parental addiction is the reason so many children are poor in the UK. IDS seems to think this is evidence based policy. In fact the survey says he is doing little more than playing Family Fortunes with children’s lives.
Even his own figures don’t back up his wild claims. In a speech to Kids Company this week, IDS stated that 100,000 people are “claiming sickness benefits whose illness is primarily down to their drug or alcohol addiction.”
Of these he blustered that a “staggering 23,000” have been on sickness benefits for a decade. Which in a population of over 60,000,000, isn’t actually that many.
What the cringe-making old pub bore doesn’t mention is that an illness which is primarily down to drug or alcohol addiction could mean anything from late stage cirrhosis to hepatitis, HIV or diabetes. Many people who misuse drugs and alcohol also have unrelated conditions, whilst a Dual Diagnosis – which means someone suffering from a mental health condition and misusing substances – is all too common.
IDS also fails to tell us how many of those 100,000 people actually have children. All his figures suggest is that parental drug or alcohol abuse is clearly not the reason why millions of children are growing up in poverty.
Predictably the answer to this problem is more money for welfare-to-work companies. IDS is launching two pilots – one to increase payments to Work Programme providers who find someone with a substance misuse problem a job for two years – and another to harness “the existing knowledge of treatment experts, in tandem with that of Work Programme providers.”
It is inevitable that workfare and benefit sanctions will be at the heart of any new schemes. This is only likely to make a bad situation worse. Parents with genuine substance misuse problems will be even more fearful to seek help from drug or alcohol charities and treatment providers. Already many parents who use drugs are scared to ask for support due to the threat of Social Services intervention or even prosecution. Now benefit sanctions are likely to be added to that list.
And no doubt endless cash will be wasted on people who have foolishly admitted to Work Programme contractors that they smoke the odd spliff at the weekend. With enhanced payments on offer to grasping welfare-to-work companies, the incentive to declare as many people as possible ‘problem’ drug or alcohol users will be too lucrative to ignore.
And so a new Work Programme gravy train is born as poverty pimps and charities begin the furtive scramble for yet more tax payer’s cash.
And in the meantime families who are poor because they haven’t got any fucking money, which is what poor means, will be abandoned to food banks, loan sharks and hunger.
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