Cameron has announced plans aimed at people with “treatable conditions”, saying it was “not fair” that taxpayers were being asked to fund welfare for those who refused help. Around 100,000 with treatable conditions are receiving sickness benefits and there is currently no requirement for them to undertake treatment.
Sickness payments are not among the welfare benefits being devolved to Holyrood under the Smith Commission proposals.
Yesterday SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said: “David Cameron has once again shown that he is far more interested in cheap headlines than in actually addressing serious problems.
“The fact that he is willing to treat obesity and addiction as an opportunity to score political points shows just why Westminster cannot be trusted to keep making welfare decisions on Scotland’s behalf.”
The plan was also criticised by former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell who dismissed it as a “stupid little stunt”. Campbell, who had a well-publicised battle with drink and is an Alcohol Concern ambassador, said the Prime Minister was “pathetic” and was not taking the problem of addiction seriously.
Describing addiction as “an illness, not a lifestyle choice”, he said Cameron should instead invest in treatment and minimum unit pricing.
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“To say we are not going to give you benefit because you are fat, we are not going to give you benefit because you drink too much, just think about what we have become as a country and that is how they treat a serious illness,” Campbell added.
Cameron said he has asked Professor Dame Carol Black, an expert adviser on health and work to the Department of Health, to undertake a rapid review into how best to support those suffering from long-term yet treatable conditions back in to work. It will look at whether people should face a reduction in benefits if they refuse to “engage” with a recommended treatment plan.
Cameron said there were too many people “stuck on sickness benefits because of issues that could be addressed but instead are not”.
He added: “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 hard-working 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.”
Susannah Gilbert, of obesity support group Big Matters, said a “blanket ruling” stripping people of sickness benefit would not work.
“I think it’s naive to think people don’t want to change their lives. Most people aren’t happy with their weight and would like to change,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“Many of them have tried every diet under the sun and they still have a weight problem. So to think that they don’t want to have help isn’t true.”
Last night a spokesman for Cameron said; “This is only a review that we’re announcing and as we go through that we will be entirely mindful of those things that are reserved and those things that are devolved.”