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Dr Sarah Woollaston Calls Obesity Sickness Benefit Loss Idea ‘Illegal’

February 16, 2015

Senior Tory MP Sarah Wollaston has demanded that a Conservative proposal to cut benefits for obese people, drug addicts and alcoholics is dropped immediately.

The chair of the Health Committee has written to David Cameron to warn that he is effectively asking doctors and nurses to break the law.

She said the law on consent was clear: that all patients have the right to refuse treatment. By threatening to take away people’s basic income, the government would be forcing people to get help.

“A doctor would not only find themselves in breach of the law, they’d find themselves at risk of being struck off,” Wollaston told BuzzFeed News. “So in fact, his proposal is utterly unworkable in terms of the existing law.”

The prime minister has declared that people who cannot work because they are too fat – or addicted to drugs or alcohol – could have their benefits cut if they refuse to get treatment. At the moment there is no requirement on addicts to seek help before they claim sickness benefits. Cameron has launched a review to see if he can change the rules.

The government says there are 100,000 people claiming benefits for “treatable conditions”. But official stats show that only 1,780 of these were claiming on the basis of obesity last year.

Wollaston said the policy was the wrong message to be sending out so close to the general election.

The MP for Totnes, a former GP, said: “I want us to win the election. I’m infuriated by this because it’s the kind of thing that just doesn’t help.

“It’s really unnecessary and it’s all part of, in my view, trying to appeal to a sort of particular group of people who see that everybody on benefits is somehow there because it’s their own fault. We shouldn’t go down this route.

“We need to have a compassionate Conservative message, in my view, and this isn’t a compassionate Conservative message – this is frankly illegal and unworkable.”

She admitted she had thought hard about having a “fight” with Number 10 on the issue, with less than three months to the election.

But she said: “I’m cross with them. We want a positive message, not this kind of negativity, and particularly something that’s not only negative but actually unworkable and illegal. I did think about this, I did think: ‘Do I actually want a fight about this because I want us to win the election?’

“But I’m afraid there are some things that are indefensible and it’s better for them to withdraw it now. I think people should make a fuss.”

Wollaston also hit out at “policy wonks” who didn’t understand the law.

She said it was “inevitable” that the proposal would be thrown out in the end.

“I sometimes wonder who these policy wonks are that don’t actually bother to acquaint themselves with the law,” she said. “Really what we need, rather than wait for months with this dragging on, it’s much better for the government to issue a clarification that there will be no enforced referrals. And I’m afraid it is an enforced referral if it means you’ll lose your benefit if you don’t go.

“If you say to somebody: ‘We will remove everything you have to live on unless you go to this thing’, all you’ll have is people pitching up just to tick the box, they won’t engage with treatment so it won’t work, and it would count under the law as an enforced referral and it would be illegal. So I can’t stress this enough, they need to withdraw it and they should do it immediately.”

Cameron did not immediately respond to Wollaston’s letter. Announcing the proposal on Saturday, he said:

Some have drug or alcohol problems, but refuse treatment. In other cases people have problems with their weight that could be addressed, but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice. It is not fair to ask hard-working taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2015 11:38 am

    …“We need to have a compassionate Conservative message …

    Tory faithful voters turn against Tories when get no help when become disabled and / or chronic sick and meet up with the cruellest system since the welfare state began, in Jobcentres more like cruel workhouses, with nil toilet provision for the many hours forced to ‘pick oakum’ in a daily sign on.


    As it is the intention of Tories to:

    – cut the state pension,
    – reduce the council grant down to £2.2 billion by 2020 (from the around £14 billion it was in 2010),
    – sanctioning the sick and disabled off ESA and Jobseekers for many months, and
    – the idea of taxing DLA / PIP,

    then it must be a sick joke, indeed, to say the Tories, the party of only the rich above £125,000 income a year (mostly men), can be compassionate.


    Because British servicemen prisoners of war in the second world war, found that the more overweight you were, the quicker they died from starvation in the prison camps. The obese would be dead on average in a fortnight, instead of the average of a month.

    An alcoholic’s body cannot process food properly.

    A drug addict can only be a thief, as his / her addiction is far beyond the mere pennies of benefit to afford and costs hundreds of pounds to service. So that compulsion would not work.


    …“It’s really unnecessary and it’s all part of, in my view, trying to appeal to a sort of particular group of people who see that everybody on benefits is somehow there because it’s their own fault. We shouldn’t go down this route. …

    But that is exactly what the Tories have been promoting, with the same belief as back inthe workhouse and the forbidding of feeding the starving with the New Poor Laws of the 19th Century.


    Even the state pension is thought of as a benefit, when it is contribution based penson like any other.

    Those retiring next year (or gaining state pension payout as can stay in work)
    will see a cut of state pension, with forecast as low as £55 per week with no top ups, or even NIL STATE PENSION FOR LIFE

    See why under my petition, in my WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT section, at:

    And also sign, please, the bigger petition that initially I signed
    and then saw the flat rate state pension was the worse to come,
    that will be presented to parliament mid March:

  2. February 16, 2015 7:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Sid's Blog and commented:
    Illegal like many tory acts

  3. February 16, 2015 10:42 pm

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating and commented:
    Wow….a Tory with a conscience!
    Having said that she is, (was), a doctor after all so maybe old habots are hard to give up.

  4. August 6, 2019 4:22 pm

    Reblogged this on michaelsnaith.

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