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