The Tories have released their recent ‘stunt’ to axe the benefits of those claiming sick pay, with treatable conditions. They have specifically targeted those that have a drug or alcohol addiction, and people with obesity.
Ministers estimate that there are almost 100,000 people in the UK claiming sickness benefits on the grounds of addiction, including alcohol, drugs and obesity. These conditions have been referred to as treatable, meaning ministers and MPs believe that these people are not seeking help to get back to work.
David Cameron told the BBC: “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.”
Drug and alcohol addiction is a form of substance abuse, that in the early stages a person can have some control over. Obesity, however, can be caused from a number of conditions, stemming from genetics and different types of background situations that are out of a person’s control. This raises the first important question: do you think it is fair to class obesity under the same treatable conditions as alcohol or drug addictions?
David Haslam, head of the National Obesity Forum, said: “These proposals seem utterly outrageous and discriminatory and wrong, because obesity and addiction are not something people choose to achieve; they are a combination of genetics and background and all sorts of situations beyond their control.”
In some cases obesity can be simply down to a person consuming too many calories, minimal physical activity and a high intake of fatty foods. However, obesity can be caused from rare genetic conditions, such as Prader Willi syndrome.
Many people label obese sufferers as ‘fat’ and blame them for putting themselves in that situation. However, not all obese people become over weight from neglecting their own body. With Prader-Willi syndrome there is a constant desire for food, meaning sufferers never stop being hungry.
They have a constant battle with food every day, that can only be treated with medication. When people suffer with a condition as severe as this, you would have thought it would have been classed as a mental health condition, as some can physically eat themselves to death. But yet it is usually seen as being their fault for eating too much and we call them lazy, when they have no self control.
With all this in mind, the Tories then want to take away the benefits of those suffering from obesity. The Department for Work and Pensions told the Daily Mail that Tories proposal would affect 7,080 people with obesity. Long-term obesity sufferers may find that they are too overweight to leave the house, let alone look for work.
In an interview with the BBC broadcast journalist Andrew Marr, the Tory cabinet minister said: “We’re not actually talking about saying we’ll take your benefits away from you if you can’t get yourself out of obesity. The problem we’ve got is that lots of people are either fearful or don’t want to take the help that’s there.
“We invest in the help, whether it’s to support people to get off drugs or whether it’s to get people into a particular mind-set to reduce their weight because their health condition is so bad.
“What we want are people to take that help and to take responsibility for their condition and try to improve. No one’s going to penalise anybody who tries.”
The Tories proposal has fuelled much of a debate between MP’s and the Department of Health.
During the 2012 tax year, the Department for Work and Pensions told the Daily Mail that £29.3million of taxpayer’s money was distributed to obese sufferers on sickness pay.
David Cameron has now enforced a benefits cap of the annual sickness benefits to £23,000. Despite Mr Cameron’s eager attitude to distribute tax payer’s money to more important issues, the Labour party are strongly opposed to his plans.
Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell and Alcohol Concern ambassador, labelled the Tories proposal as a “stupid little stunt”. He continued by calling the Prime Minister “pathetic” and believed that Cameron was not taking the consequences of addictions seriously.
There are many reasons outside the science of genetics on how a person may become obese. Last year a study conducted by Cambridge University found healthy foods cost three times as much as junk food.
Furthermore, what is the probability that when we walk in to a supermarket all the best deals go to the processed junk and snacking foods, rather than the healthy, or organic produce?
Our society is constantly throwing fatty food temptations at us, whether it is on our TV screens about which supermarket have the cheapest brand of crisps or through our doors with numerous take away menus stamped with deals and vouchers throughout. We are consumed by a world of fatty foods that are constantly causing a problem within our society.
Those with Prader Willi have no self-control over their own hunger, so surely the extensive advertisement of fatty produce doesn’t benefit them?
We are consumerists: we cannot help it but we live and work to consume. For some its inanimate objects but for the majority of the working class it’s food, especially those that are on benefits.
In an interview with the BBC, Government adviser on Health, Work and Welfare, Professor Dame Carol Black argued: “These people, in addition to their long-term conditions and lifestyle issues, suffer the great disadvantage of not being engaged in the world of work, such an important feature of society.”
Working can greatly impact on a person’s social ability outside the working environment, however one woman with obesity says she needs more benefits to help pay for an unhealthy lifestyle.
Christina Briggs, 26, is a mother of two from Wigan and suffers with obesity but admits that it was caused by an unhealthy lifestyle as she couldn’t afford healthy foods.
The single mother of two confronted Closer Magazine: “It’s not easy being overweight and on benefits. If I was well off, I’d be able to buy fresh food and afford a gym membership.”
The constant battle of fresh food prices does not only just affect the person, but the ones around them, for example they feed their children the same non-nutritional products of which feeds the next generation of obesity.
When you look at the bigger picture, the Tories should be spending more money on obesity sickness benefits as it avoids further obesity in families. However in typical Conservative style, they choose to take them away completely.
The Tories ambition to take away sickness benefits to the treatable conditions of alcoholism and drug addiction is in my opinion a good idea, as long as the addicts are offered a wide range of treatments. I feel that giving these addicts benefits may just fuel their addiction, the government paying them to get their fix.
However, in terms of taking away obese people’s benefits I truly believe is unfair if they are too overweight to work.
Obesity can stem from genetics, medication, health issues or depression; which is a mental health disorder. This makes it harder for them to get rid of the weight. They need support, and once offered they should be monitored until it can be assessed if they are in the right mindset and state of health to go back to work. They would have been closed off from society for so long that the idea of meeting new people may cause anxiety, due to many labelling them as fat and lazy rather than understanding the condition.
Tories should assess all the pros and cons towards this, rather than just looking at what helps the government.
Photo Credit: Jacek Halicki