04 November 2011
Dr Laura Williamson
People who are alcohol dependant will be less likely to seek medical help under tough UK Government proposals to stop their benefits, a leading academic has warned.
In a paper written for influential medical journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, Dr Laura Williamson, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the Institute for Applied Health Research, Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), asserts that Government attempts to ‘pressgang’ people in England into treatment centres will actually drive people with drink-related problems further away from getting the support they need.
Dr Williamson expresses concern that Government policy risks worsening the stigma that surrounds alcohol dependence, preventing people seeking help for their drinking problem. As a result, she argues, policy undermines the recent Guidance document published by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) that aims to improve treatment for those who need it.
Dr Williamson said: “The NICE guidance emphasises the importance of supportive, empathetic and non-judgemental treatment that provides patients with privacy and dignity. But this initiative is not backed up by Government policy and is actually likely to be undermined by it. The comments made by the Prime Minister regarding those with alcohol problems who are paid incapacity benefit are particularly problematic for effort to cultivate trust between services users and providers.”
She explains that the focus of policy on sensible, or responsible drinking “… implies that people with alcohol dependence are simply branded as irresponsible. Together with the fear of benefits being withdrawn, this ‘it’s your own fault’ attitude means there is little incentive for people to acknowledge they have a problem and then seek help.
“To support the treatment of alcohol dependence, policy must avoid cultivating environments in which the stigma surrounding the condition thrives and trust is undermined, trust that NICE indicates should be at the heart of treatment programmes.
“Another issue is whether timely, sufficient treatment is available to meet the need created by the policy.
“Until Government successfully addresses the challenges presented by these issues and begins to create the supportive environment envisaged by NICE, the responsibilities of dependent drinkers cannot and, arguable, should not be relied on to solve the problems associated with harmful drinking in England or elsewhere.”
Dr Williamson is available for press interviews re alcohol policy. For further information, please contact:
Roisin Eadie, Press Officer, on 0141 331 8614 /07824 537 598
The National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) published Alcohol Use Disorders: Diagnosis, Assessment and Management of Harmful Drinking and Alcohol Dependence in February 2011.
In 2010, the Westminster coalition government published its new strategy on drug and alcohol dependence. It includes imposing ‘sanctions’ on benefit claimants who are alcohol dependent if they fail to accept treatment. During an interview for the BBC, when referring to alcohol dependent people in receipt of state help such as incapacity benefit, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “A lot of people who pay their taxes will think ‘that’s not what I pay my taxes for. I pay my taxes for people who are incapacitated through no fault of their own’.” As of August 2010, Department of Work and Pension data revealed that 42,310 people with ‘alcoholism’ were being paid incapacity benefit. Of this number, 13,080 had been receiving benefits for between five and 10 years, and 12,880 for more than 10 years. (Department of Work and Pensions, 2011)
One of the UK's most dynamic universities, Glasgow Caledonian offers a modern, cosmopolitan environment for learning, teaching and applied research. The university’s mission is to provide a high quality, accessible, inclusive and flexible learning and teaching environment enhanced by curiosity driven research. It applies its knowledge and skills for the social and economic benefits of the communities it serves in Scotland and around the world.