Obama’s team hopes to lower healthcare costs and increase insurance coverageBMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b1591 (Published 17 April 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1591
All rapid responses
Thank you, BMJ, for alerting thousands of doctors to the latest
proposal from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions : to remove
benefits from ‘alcoholics’ so they ‘need to get sober, get their life back
and get back to work’.  The Government is also going to stimulate some
new Research on using such financial penalties to ‘help’ return suitably
reformed drinkers back into productive workers.
An obvious Feasibility Study comes to mind. There are some 646 people
of working age sitting in Parliament, mostly males. Assuming they are no
more prone to alcohol dependence than their constituents (inspite of the
cheap, long hours workplace availability of alcohol in Westminster) about
50 will currently use alcohol in a disordered, disabling way and another
50 will have a history of similar problems. The alcohol disorders among
Members of Parliament will range from episodic loss of control over their
pathological drinking, to chronic and overwhelming dependence. Now a busy
Job Centre Plus might assess 646 customers in one week, so we could easily
ask such Department of Work and Pensions staff to assess all the MPs for a
history of ‘alcoholism’ so they can ‘get back to work’. Those judged to be
unfit for work due to alcohol would lose their income, accommodation and
expenses until they sobered up to the satisfaction of those employment
advisers. In the words of the Secretary of State, how many of his 100 or
so colleagues will easily ‘conquer their problems’? 
1. O’Dowd A. Doctors warn government against removing benefits from
alcoholics who refuse treatment. BMJ 2009; 338: 971.
2. Department for Work and Pensions. Purnell: welfare reform is about
putting families first. DWP Press Release, 14 April 2009.
Some involvement in alcohol research over three decades.
Competing interests: No competing interests