Mission Australia is calling for further investment in alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs proven to reduce illicit substance abuse, amidst concerns that punitive welfare recipient drug testing will push already vulnerable people into even more precarious situations, including homelessness.

The call comes following the Federal Budget announcement that 5,000 new Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance recipients will undergo trial drug testing and will have their income support quarantined if tested positive for illicit substance use.

James Toomey, Mission Australia’s Executive of Operations and Fundraising said: “If a jobseeker’s income is cut, this actually reduces their capacity to look for jobs. This proposed measure unfairly targets already vulnerable people. Rather than incentivising people to voluntarily step forward to overcome substance abuse, it punishes them by removing their welfare safety net altogether.

Without access to welfare supports, this will place extraordinary pressure on already vulnerable families and individuals. And the consequences will be dire if they no longer have the means to maintain a roof over their head. The impact on families and children could be severe – by cutting off their income, entire families could be pushed into further poverty and into homelessness. Already stretched community services simply won’t cope with the increased demand said Mr Toomey

Mr Toomey explained that coercion “simply does not work” and to effectively address substance abuse, the fear of punishment must be removed.

For people who have fallen into a cycle of substance use, their fate rests on the availability of appropriate detoxification and rehabilitation facilities – of which there is a severe shortage. It is difficult to find that small window of opportunity where the person struggling with addiction is stable and self-motivated to commence treatment. If a place is not found, this vital window is missed and the situation worsens. Coming off addictions, without quality medical support and rehabilitation can be extremely difficult and dangerous. It needs a safe place for change, without the punitive pressures of this proposed trial said Mr Toomey

He continued, “We don’t yet know how much this measure will cost to implement, but we know this money could be better spent on increasing availability of treatment options. There is a need for more programs to support illicit drug users in the long-term and for better integration between health, justice and community services. As well, the absence of appropriate detoxification facilities, particularly for young people, remains a considerable barrier to effective interventions and treatment.”

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