My Two Cents: Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

This is a hot topic in Australia at the moment after the government suggested potential plans to bring this in, in an effort to stop people using their welfare allowances on illegal substances.  I know a lot of you reading this aren’t from Down Under.  We had a slang term to address people like that – “Dole Bludgers”.  It’s an offensive term and something a lot of people actively avoid being called.  It basically means you’re too lazy to get a job and the rest of the country hates you for wasting our tax money.  There are suburbs in every state where there are a large number of Dole Bludgers…it’s those same suburbs that are actively avoided due to their reputation of high crime rates.  I know I don’t go to them unless absolutely necessary.

Anyway, I’m all for the testing.  I know some people – namely those accepting allowance payments – think it’s an invasion of privacy, and there’s no guarantee the drugs were paid for my government hand outs.  They say it doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for work.  If they’re unable to work, they say it doesn’t hurt anyone and it shouldn’t affect their entitlements.  They say they need the money to feed their families.  They say it’s a health issue, much the same as cancer or depression.  I’ve read all the excuses.  That’s exactly what they are – excuses.

Whether or not drugs should be illegal is a completely different argument, but as it stands in Australia right at this moment, they are a banned substance.  Now, if you want to use them despite that, then that’s your choice and I’m not about to go all politically correct about that.  It doesn’t directly affect me (thankfully) so I’m not about to weigh in on that issue.  I will say, though, that if you’re using my taxpayer money to fund your habit, that’s when I’m going to start saying no.  I was unemployed up until last week (though I never got so far as to accept handouts).  I understand it isn’t easy to find a job.  In fact, it’s hard work and it sucks.  That’s why our government has a system that allows for hand outs.  I have no problem with people accepting the money, because that’s what it’s there for, but I do have an issue when they piss it away on dope or ice and don’t even attempt to find a job because they’re too busy being off their faces.

Drug testing would mean that people found to have banned substances in their systems would be stripped of their benefits, and be forced to find work.  While that may initially sound ruthless (particularly to those supporting families), I don’t see this as being a bad thing.  It’s forcing them to get clean, ask for help, admit the problem instead of hiding away, making the problem worse, and possibly endangering their lives and the lives that surround them.  Obviously there would need to be some timeline in place for those that comply and legitimately can’t find work, but this would also need to be accompanied by regular drug tests as well.

Is it an invasion of privacy?  Well, no, not if you’re using taxpayer’s money.  You gave up your right to that level of privacy when you began accepting those payments.  If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you aren’t giving up anything more private than your pee.  Again, this probably sounds ruthless.  Isn’t everyone entitled to privacy?  Yes, of course.  I’m not suggesting everyone who goes on the dole should have to give blood samples and fingerprints.  It’s not a criminal offence to ask the government for help.  It is a criminal offence, however, to use elicit drugs, and if you’re going to break the government’s law using government funds, then it’s you’re own stupid fault if you get caught.

The most used excuse is “it’s a health issue”.  I understand it’s an addiction so in that sense it’s true.  That being said, just the same as alcohol, cigarettes and sugar, it’s something you can kick.  I believe should this testing come into practice, the government would need to give users free access to rehabilitation clinics and support groups, as I completely agree it’s almost impossible to go cold turkey.  I’m not suggesting this testing should be bought in to punish users, but to help them.  If they refuse the help, then they lose their benefits and that’s the end of that, but if they accept the help and successfully kick the habit, then they should be allowed benefits again.  Seems fairly straightforward to me.

The last excuse I want to touch on is the “I need the money to feed my families” one.  This one is particularly disturbing to me as drugs aren’t cheap, we all know this.  If you’re expecting your allowance to cover your habit and your kids food, what are you feeding them?  It’s bad enough they’ve got a drug user in the household, but to then be raised on two minute noodles and baked beans because that’s all they can afford after the drug money?  This is why testing needs to come in.  To help the innocent victims.  To get their parents back on track.  To give them a voice and make them heard.

Australia is a great country when it comes to supporting it’s people.  We have a fantastic health system and a decent support system for the sick, unemployed and disabled.  A lot of this is due to the taxes we pay each year to cover the cost.  I am wholeheartedly supportive of the drug tests.  I think the positives far outweigh the negatives, and anyone who can’t see that needs to have a long hard think about why exactly that is and who they’re hurting in the long run.

-JD

6 thoughts on “My Two Cents: Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

  1. I don’t like it when taxes go to fund wars (or give breaks to large corporations and religions), but I don’t have a choice in where tax dollars are spent. However, I’d rather taxes be spent on people rather than bombs, corporations and religions. And what you may not realize is that when you’re poor, you can’t afford a lot of health care (even in countries with a good health care system), and illegal drugs can be much cheaper than prescription medications. In other words, many welfare recipients are self-medicating for health conditions that are undiagnosed and/or untreated.

    When you have been discriminated against because you’re poor, with things like drug tests, perhaps you will feel differently. The requirement to take a drug test says that, just because you’re poor, you probably take drugs. It’s being found guilty of something and having to prove your innocence. And since the accuracy of drugs tests is extremely questionable, relying on them is extremely prejudicial.

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    1. I know elsewhere in the world, it is expensive to get good healthcare. However, in Australia bulk-billing means that to visit GPs and other medical places, you don’t pay a cent. You walk in, give the receptionist your medicare card (everyone has one) and they do the rest so the government pays. If you’re low-income, you get a different card from the government that allows for discounts on medications, public transport and other things. A lot of medication can also be almost completely claimed back through medicare as well. Obviously, there are some exceptions, though mostly those are for really rare drugs or for ones still in trial phases, but for the most part, it would be A LOT cheaper for Australians to get their hands on legal drugs than illegal ones. I’m not saying that some innocent people won’t be affected – there’s always going to be victims when laws like this are passed – but a majority of people who get caught won’t be using them to self-medicate. The government wouldn’t be suggesting this at all if this wasn’t such a massive issue in the first place. It wouldn’t be worth opening up the debate if it were only a handful of people using their allowance for illegal drugs, particularly if they were only using it for self-medicating. Ultimately, I believe by bringing it in and coupling it with free access to rehab clinics (and legal drugs if that’s what they need) would help people more than hinder them.

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      1. Perhaps that’s the difference between Australians and Americans — Australians believe what their government tells them, often without question. Tell me, how does your government track what those on welfare buy? How do you know with such certainty that this is such a huge problem?

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      2. I don’t believe the government tracks what people buy. However, when you apply for welfare you give them a LOT of information (I started the process myself and it took me over an hour to fill out everything) including your address and medicare details. They would have access to every time you’ve been to the hospital/had an ambulance/police call out due to drug issues. Like I said, they aren’t going to suggest this if they didn’t think it was an issue. They want people’s votes, and suggesting something so controversial isn’t likely to do that. Do I believe what the government says? No, not always. Tony Abbott was the world’s biggest dickhead, and we as a nation cringed every time he opened his mouth. In this case though, they would have the data to back them up. I’m sure anyone in the health industry would be able to dig around and find it…if they couldn’t, the whole concept would have been shot down quick smart thanks to social media and other free-speech platforms. I guess aside from that though, is if it isn’t such a huge problem, then bringing it in isn’t likely to hurt many people then is it? They’d trial it, see it’s a waste of time, and scrap it.

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      3. There are plenty of states here in the U.S. that have implemented drug testing for welfare recipients, and what the data shows so far is that this population uses illegal drugs at a lower percentage than the general population. Testing is expensive and the small number of people they kick out of the program doesn’t end up saving the state any money. But if you want your government to spend taxpayer money on this, that’s fine, just don’t expect to find any savings in the results. Just shame and discrimination against poor people and those who suffer from mental illnesses.

        I guess I don’t understand how they could really track who buys illegal drugs — I’m sure many people use these drugs and never end up in the ER or hospital. It just seems like you’ve made a lot of assumptions about this issue based on what you’ve heard (and what you haven’t heard) and I don’t see any real evidence of a huge problem — just like here in the U.S. Just a lot of political rhetoric.

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