There was a time when jobseekers’ benefits were a social right that workers fought for to protect themselves when they were made redundant by their employers. Today, it has become a blackmail to make people feel guilty to be unemployed, to control them twice a month, and to force them to accept low wages and exploitation.
The government probably thinks that people are jobless because they are too stupid and too lazy to find a job. Among the ‘bad people’ to blame, they have found a new easy scapegoat: people suffering drugs addiction. Drugs users are often portrayed as irresponsible, ready to commit any criminal act to support their habit. In fact, drugs users are all sort of people. We are everywhere, and many people you wouldn’t expect, are both drugs addicts and hard workers, perfectly integrated within the labour market.
Cutting drugs users’ benefits will not help them. It only stigmatises them and excludes them further from society. If you deprive them of their basic resources, then you’re doing exactly what you fear: you push them to take risks for their lives and to commit criminal activities in order to survive. But don’t be confused with the cause of crime, which is poverty, not drugs use. Rich drugs users don’t need to commit crimes to survive, and of course they are much less likely to be arrested by the police.
Attacking drugs users is a war on the poor that doesn’t say its name. The criminalisation of drugs doesn’t affect rich people as much as the poor. It is young people, the working class and black people who are the most victims of police arrests. As a sex worker, I see how drugs criminalisation is used against my community. Most victims of Bradford and Ipswich murders were suffering drugs addictions. By cutting drugs users’ benefits, the government is sending more women on the streets where it is the most dangerous to work and is thus preparing more murders.
We can’t force people out of addiction if they are not ready. It is the guarantee to fail when on the contrary involvement from drugs users themselves can make a difference. Drugs users surprised the medical community in being the most responsible community in the fight against HIV. The number of contaminations has been reduced dramatically due to needles exchange and harm reduction policies. Harm reduction works and has been proved very efficient in reducing the number of overdoses.
In terms of health, criminalisation and repressive measures have a very negative impact. What we need is better information on how to use drugs safely, a better access to services and prevention materials to avoid transmissions of hepatitis C and other diseases, and a control on the quality of the products we consume. Current public spending cuts are putting these crucial services in danger when they are actually saving lives.
Drugs decriminalisation is the only good strategy to reduce the number of people suffering from addictions. For example, in Portugal where drugs use has been decriminalised, the number of people suffering drugs addictions has decreased, because drugs users are less afraid to access health services and the social and medical help they need when they are not stigmatised and criminalised. Drugs decriminalisation is the best way to help people find a job and go back to work.
The government tries to attack poor people by cutting the public services we need and to accuse us of abusing the welfare system when it is about our rights. Meanwhile, tax evasion cost much more money than poor people on benefits. But probably because some tax evaders are also funders of the Conservative party, it is much less urgent to stop them and to claim the money due. Drugs users are only an easy target to divide the people in a period of spending cuts and huge sacrifices for the people. Drugs users are not criminals. They should be protected and supported.