Tuesday 14 April 2009

What has James Purnell been drinking?

Somewhat under the radar given the events of the last few days, today's Government consultation on limiting benefits for alcoholics is one of those announcements that makes you think you've fallen asleep and woken up under the Tories.
The Lib Dems and anti-addiction charities have quite rightly condemned the idea to try to bully alcoholics into receiving treatment by threatening to deprive them of their benefits. Quite what James Purnell thinks will be achieved by such a scheme is beyond me. Does he really think that someone with a severe alcohol addiction will suddenly see the light when threatened by a functionary from the DWP. Alcoholics who have perhaps lost their jobs and families through their addiction are hardly likely to "come to their senses" when faced with this latest threat. Far more likely is that they will end up further in debt, poverty and illness, placing a greater strain on NHS resources never mind the sheer inhumanity of this approach.
Since when is it Labour policy to punish people for being ill?


Newmania said...

Yes pointless .They will just lie and stay out of help`s way. I think political chess has , once again been responsible for silly policy . Its obviously designed to head off the fury due to be directed at New Labour`s client dependent state by core voters.

Zio Bastone said...

So you missed the 2009 Welfare Reform Bill whilst you were having that doze?

Rather than silly Punch and Judy rhetoric about Tories it might be instructive to consider just how far and how destructively New Labour has combined a market ideology (inherited from Thatcherism, although frequently misunderstood) with a preference for social engineering once favoured by what had been the more Statist elements of the Left to create social bullying through rationing, which is what this is all about.

Some rights have always been contingent. (The right to liberty has always been contingent upon not robbing people’s houses, for example.) But you can detect how New Labour wished to change the nature of social rights in, say, Jack Straw’s speech on rights and responsibilities back in ’95 or ’96. And that was hardly yesterday or even the day before.

Unknown said...

Couldn't agree more.

I wrote Labour a letter:


doubt they will read it though.

Stuart White said...

I think the point that alcoholism is an illness is crucial here. I've written a lot about 'rights and responsibilities' (including a book, The Civic Minimum). I cannot see how this measure fits into a social democratic conception of rights and responsibilities. It is a nasty, punitive measure that will simply add a lot of distress to the lives of some very vulnerable - very ill - people.

Zio Bastone said...

A couple of points.

I don't think New Labour's conception of what I called contingent rights is a social democratic one at all.

I do (of course) agree that alcoholism is an illness. But New Labour have eroded two distinctions, both of which are relevant to what that label means.

Firstly the boundary between (involuntary) need and (voluntary) consumption has been progressively redrawn. The result being that the sick and those in education are both now ' consumers'.

Secondly the split between public and private is also being elided. So on the one hand care which the community might wish to offer its more vulnerable members becomes a good to be consumed 'responsibly'. And, on the other, public experience (the sort of thing which gives rise to political action) gets privatised out of existence. Hence the £13m to be spent on CTBT for those who are made unemployed through this recession: a case of treating social distress as though it were 'mental illness'.

This proposal is of a piece with all of that.