“One in 15 working-age benefit claimants suffers from addiction to opiates, such as crack cocaine and heroin. An estimated one in 25 working-age benefit claimants suffers alcohol dependency.”
Evening Standard, 29 September 2014

The background

Iain Duncan Smith announced this week that benefits claimants will get their money loaded onto pre-paid cards so they aren’t tempted to squander the cash on drugs, alcohol and gambling.

A reader saw the above claim in the Standard – attributed to Mr Duncan Smith’s “aides” – but it was repeated pretty much verbatim on many other news sites.

Crack cocaine is not an opiate, for a start, so something has got garbled somewhere. What about the numbers?

A man prepares to inject heroin at an abandoned house in Ljubljana

The analysis

The sources here are two pieces of research carried out by the DWP based on data from 2008 (in the case of alcohol) and 2006 (drugs). The researchers set out to estimate how many people claiming working-age benefits in England had drink and drug problems.

The paper on alcohol misuse looks at people who scored more than 20 on AUDIT – a commonly used questionnaire used to identify a possible drinking problem. You can do the survey yourself here. FactCheck’s score is going to remain confidential.

The research concluded that 4 per cent of working age claimants, or 159,900 people, were dependent drinkers. That is indeed one in 25 so team IDS is in the clear so far.


The national percentage of working-age people thought to be dependent drinkers was 2 per cent, so a benefits claimant was exactly twice as likely to have a booze problem than the average joe.

To put it another way: of the 630,000 working-age people in England thought to have a drink problem, 159,900 were on benefits.

We don’t think the equivalent study for hard drugs is readable on the internet but we have tracked down a copy offline.

Now we are talking about people defined as “problematic drug users”, the drugs in question being crack cocaine or opiates like heroin.

Again, the paper looked at working age claimants of at least one of the most common benefits: Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance.

It found that 6.6 per cent of working-age benefits claimants had a problem with crack or opiates. That added up to more than a quarter of a million people – 267,000 to be precise. Again, 6.6 per cent is one in 15, so the claim stands up.

By comparison, only 1.1 per cent of the total working age population of England were estimated to be problem drug users.

There was also a big difference between men and women. Only about 3 per cent of female claimants were thought to be drug addicts, compared to nearly 10 per cent of men.


DWP figures are also available on the numbers of people claiming disability benefits due to a drink or drug problem.

Some  2.2 per cent of people claiming a sickness or disability benefit had a “primary disabling condition of alcohol misuse” in 2013.

That’s just over 107,000 people out of about 2.5 million claimants. The percentage is virtually unchanged over the last seven years.

Some 1.4 per cent of disability benefit claimants had drug misuse recorded as their main disabling condition. That’s 68,000 claimants out of around 2.5 million.

The percentage appears to be falling consistently year-on-year.


Merely having a bad drink or drug problem doesn’t qualify you for disability benefits – claimants are tested and have to be found to be unfit to perform a range of tasks to be eligible.

These figures don’t include people who have other medical conditions or disabilities caused by drug or alcohol abuse.

The verdict

The claim is based on official evidence, although some of the underlying data is looking a bit out of date now.

The stats on drug users go back to 2006, and there has been a significant decline in crack and opiate use since then, according to other government figures.

Has this apparent fall in the use of the most addictive drugs filtered through to benefits claims too in more recent years? We don’t know.