1,400 ON BENEFITS DUE TO DRUGS
MORE people in Bristol are claiming disability benefits because they are addicted to illegal drugs than anywhere else in the country.
Government figures show that more than 1,400 people in the city are receiving incapacity benefit or its replacement, employment support allowance, because of their drug problems – more than in any other local authority area, Birmingham, Glasgow or Manchester.
The government released the data to try to generate support for its controversial shake-up of benefit payments.
According to the figures, from the Department for Work and Pensions, drug addiction was the main reason for welfare dependency of 990 incapacity benefit claimants and 420 people receiving ESA.
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City council bosses said it had been recognised that Bristol had one of the highest numbers of "complex drug users" in Britain.
Ministers said the figures showed why the whole benefits system needs to be transformed. But a Bristol charity warned of "marginalising" people with drug problems.
Bristol West Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams said: "There may well be a lot of people receiving benefits because of drug addiction. But curtailing their benefits isn't going to deal with that."
Charlotte Leslie, Conservative MP for Bristol North West, said: "It is obviously bad for everybody if we have got a large number of people languishing on benefits because of drug or alcohol problems. They are not getting the support – it doesn't help them if all they are getting from the state is something to feed the habit. They need to break the cycle."
Ms Leslie, who said she backed the government's moves to reform welfare, said it would be a "massive challenge" to change the way addictions and mental health issues are dealt with.
Regina Birtto, of Knowle West Alcohol and Drug Service, said Bristol's high numbers of claimants could mean the city has a good network of support and information for addicts.
She said: "There is a huge hub of support in Bristol."
There was a danger of "marginalising" drug addicts by highlighting the support they receive, she said.
"Each case is individual and separate. You don't know what circumstances that person has been in over the years."
A city council spokeswoman said the government decided who should be eligible for benefit payments.
She said: "Bristol is the largest city in the South West and drug users often gravitate to an urban area. As such, we have higher numbers.
"Nationally it is recognised that Bristol is in a group of cities that have the highest number in the country of more complex drug users and some alcoholics who have multiple problems. They may have severe mental health problems, be homeless, or be working in the sex industry for example."
The council works with other organisations including job centres and the National Treatment Agency to help addicts recover and prepare for work, she said.
Outside the city centre, North Somerset had 440 people claiming either incapacity benefit or ESA, South Gloucestershire 160 and B&NES 200.
Figures for London were divided up between the capital's boroughs – but no individual borough had more people claiming one of the two benefits than Bristol.
The DWP also listed people claiming disability living allowance (DLA) because of either drug or alcohol addiction in the figures, which date from last November. It said there were 320 in Bristol but did not break down the figures to show in how many cases drug use was a factor.
Across the country, 20,000 people were listed as receiving benefits because of drug or alcohol addiction.
The coalition's controversial reforms include replacing DLA with a new payment with tougher criteria.
And all incapacity benefit claimants are being subjected to physical tests to see whether they are capable of working.
There has been criticism that people are being judged fit to work by the automated tests, and this week Professor Malcolm Harrington, the man appointed to review the process, announced he was standing down.
A DWP spokeswoman said: "The reassessment of 1.5 million people on incapacity benefit and the work capability assessment we use means we can take account of conditions that change over time. If you can work you will get the all the help and support you need to do so.
"These figures show the scale of the problem and the ludicrous situation that used to exist and why we are right to reform the system."