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Tuesday 25th October 2016

Alcohol misusers’ experiences of employment and the benefit system and Population estimates of problem alcohol users who access DWP benefits

13th December 2010

Today, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published findings from research exploring the experiences of alcohol misusers in relation to claiming benefits, looking for and being in employment, and dealing with Jobcentre Plus. The research involves two components: an international literature review, and depth interviews with alcohol misusers and professionals working in the field of alcohol misuse treatment. The Department also today published the findings of analysis to produce estimates of the number of individuals with an alcohol misuse problem who access DWP benefits.

The research was carried out on behalf of the Department by researchers from the Universities of Bath and Glasgow. The depth interviews were conducted between November 2009 and March 2010.

The main findings are:

  • Around 160,000 dependent drinkers in England were in receipt of one or more of DWP’s four main benefits in 2008.
  • Around 100,000 were in receipt of Incapacity Benefit and 90,000 in receipt of Income Support, although a significant number were on Jobseeker’s Allowance (30,000). A similar number (30,000) were in receipt of Disability Living Allowance. According to these estimates, around a quarter (25%) of the total number of dependent drinkers were in receipt of benefits. However, we know from National Treatment Agency (NTA) data that the proportion of individuals accessing treatment for alcohol problems who are not in work is substantially higher.
  • Alcohol misusers tend to have multiple and complex needs, and mental health problems are twice as common as in the general population.
  • Experiences of Jobcentre Plus were mixed, with some participants reporting positive interactions, and others talking of frustration with the staff and system.
  • Most of the participants were positive about work and keen to return to employment, although ongoing physical and mental health issues prevented them from doing so at the time of the interview. Voluntary work, part-time work and work trials were identified as important stepping stones back into employment for many in this group.
  • However, barriers include lack of skills and experience, health problems, fear of stigma and relapse, feeling hopeless about the future, and concern about being better off on benefits than in work.
  • Losing their benefits causes alcohol misusers significant stress and can cause them to relapse. Fear of losing benefits was reported to be a barrier to engaging with support and treatment services.
  • It is recovery, rather than completing treatment, that is a key driver of coming off benefits and securing employment. Recovery involves successfully addressing other life issues, such as housing and health problems, in combination with alcohol misuse. Recovery can take anywhere between a few months and a couple of years. Relapse is common but not inevitable.
  • The professionals interviewed highlighted the importance of inter-agency working and called for a wider view of treatment, to include social support and help for individuals attempting to live an alcohol-free life.


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