3 March 2009
DWP decision makers are to be given powers to demand urine samples from claimants.
The new powers are contained in the latest Welfare Reform Bill to be put before parliament. Under the proposed regulations, which will initially apply to drug misuse but can be extended at any time to include alcohol abuse, claimants are obliged to answer questions about their drug use.
Claimants who have, or who are suspected of having, a substance misuse problem can be summoned for a drugs interview. This may then be followed by a ‘substance-related assessment’ at which a decision will be made about whether the claimant needs rehabilitation treatment.
If the claimant fails to participate in the process, they can be obliged to take ‘one or more tests’ to discover whether ‘there is or has been any drug in the person’s body’
Draft regulations allow the DWP to take urine or other samples, such as a swab from a claimant’s mouth. However, the regulations specifically preclude the collecting of blood, semen, pubic hair or genital swabs.
Failure to allow drug tests will lead to the claimant losing benefits for 26 weeks.
The provisions are unlikely to be resisted by MPs. So mandatory drug tests for sick and disabled claimants may soon be added to the now routine use of lie detectors, the increasing use of surveillance filming which is subsequently broadcast on national TV and the promotion of hotlines to accuse people of benefits fraud without any evidence.
Taken together it’s hard to see in what way the government draws a distinction between suspected criminals and sick and disabled benefits claimants. Except, of course, that claimants are much less likely to get free legal help to fight for justice.