Is it the privilege of the rich to abuse their bodies?

Most agree that it is common sense not to systematically wreck our body, our vehicle for experiencing the world. Yet when it comes to drink, drugs and diet we are often far from logical. However surely people have free will and are autonomous enough to make their own lifestyle choices no matter the risk.

David Cameron recently stated that he was looking into taking away sickness benefits from people suffering from drug, alcohol and obesity related illnesses. Government is present in all aspects of our lives, with laws keeping us safe from others as well as ourselves. Therefore it must follow that this is just another step towards protecting citizens. There are already numerous laws, taxes and fines around drugs and alcohol. But there is more to this than protecting people; the cuts will affect the most vulnerable in society. The government is effectively saying that the poorest people do not have equal rights over their lifestyle as everyone else.

It is a common double standard of our society. We judge the homeless alcoholic but the rich cocaine addict carries a sense of glamour. The argument is often cyclical: they don’t deserve to spend money on addiction because they have little money to spend, but then again they have little money because they spend it on addiction.

To justify this proposal Cameron argues that “Some [people] have drug or alcohol problems, but refuse treatment (…) instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice.” He claims that these measures will give people the incentive to actively seek work. Yet what of those who struggle day by day with addiction? What about those who are physically unable to work because of these illnesses? The assumption that people are too lazy to work is naive and one which has landed the PM in deep criticism.

So where has this potential policy come from? Aside from an ideological and ingrained misunderstanding of the working class, this is just another pre-election spectacle. Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell said it was a “stupid little stunt” and that “it is embarrassing that we have a PM who does this sort of stuff”, comparing Cameron to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Cameron tried to justify his ideas by arguing that “it is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers” to fund these benefits, however asking those with plenty of money to help those most vulnerable in society does not seem unreasonable. In fact this is one of the key purposes of tax: to redistribute wealth to those most in need.
The government’s time would be much better spent on programmes to help combat these issues, instead of demonising them. We should try to understand the deeper social issues that bring people to a dependence on benefits. Cutting off and limiting the working class, cutting the benefits designed to help them advance, then discrediting them as lazy will only perpetuate the current social discord. As Alastair Campbell stated: addiction is “an illness, not a lifestyle choice” and should be treated thus.


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January 2022
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