Is £435 Million of disability benefits really being spent on people addicted to drugs/alcohol?

by richardhutton

It looks like the Conservative Party are issuing press-briefings to the tabloids, about disability benefits.

The Mail on Sunday bemoans that ‘£435MILLION in sickness benefit’ is ‘handed to drunks and junkies, with 75,000 signed off work for their addictions given up to £108 a week’.

The fact that the article quotes two mediocre Conservative MPs – Nigel Mills and Tracey Crouch – suggests that this has come from the Conservative party; while a rare instance of a DWP spokesperson disputing the Mail’s overarching implication indicates that, for once, they weren’t involved.

In a perfectly revealing idiom, the Mail complains that:

“Alcoholics and junkies are getting almost half a billion pounds a year in sickness benefits, shock figures reveal.
An investigation by The Mail on Sunday has uncovered the true scale of welfare payouts to addicts, despite repeated attempts by Ministers to crack down on Britain’s benefits culture”.


“More than 75,000 people are signed off work and being paid up to £108 a week in sickness pay – more than jobseekers get – because of conditions related to drink or drug abuse”.

The reality is not close; nor was an investigation of any kind necessary. In fact, it was only several days prior that the DWP issued a Freedom of Information response making this clear. Firstly, both alcohol and drug addiction are recorded as the Main Disabling Condition, not the sole one. More to the point, the Mail’s data appears to be quite considerably exaggerated. It contends that:

“Figures uncovered by this newspaper show there were 1,921,340 people across Britain on sickness benefits – now known as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – in 2013-14, receiving annual payments totalling £10.4billion. Of these, 46,810 received the payment mainly because of their alcohol misuse and a further 28,440 had a ‘primary disabling condition’ of drug addiction. The alcoholics received £249.8million in ESA and the drug addicts £156.7 million”.

The most recent figures for the ESA caseload are dated May 2013. In reality, the total number of people in receipt of this benefit was 1,747,610. Of those, 42,600 people had a main disabling condition of alcoholism; whereas 26,650 people had a main disabling condition of drug abuse. A combined total of 69,250 – or c. 4% of the total ESA caseload.

Total expenditure on ESA is approximately £6.8bn (see p. 16). Four percent of this would be £272 million. This is a lot of money – but that is neither here nor there. Nor ultimately are the Mail’s distortions and exaggerations. The basic fact of the matter is that thousands of people in Britain are ill, with serious addictions. They need help and support, as – for once – the DWP rightly note. That Conservative politicians and their allies in the media seek to make political capital out of this speaks for itself. Unfortunately, it also stands as a portent for the near future – as the government has repeatedly increased the amount of pressure on people in these circumstances, with a view to punishing them for their problems.