Crackdown on addicts 'blocked by SNP'

UK MINISTERS are accusing the SNP Government of deliberately sabotaging a key policy that would force drug addicts to seek help or lose benefits.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell claims the Scottish Government is refusing to hand over details of the drug problem north of the border, effectively "blocking" the UK-wide policy.

On Tuesday, Purnell will outline moves to stop benefits being paid to crack and heroin addicts unless they agree to try to break their habit.

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He says it is unacceptable for taxpayers' money to be effectively handed straight to drug dealers across Britain.

SNP ministers oppose the measures, arguing that they will force drug addicts to fall back into a life of crime. Purnell claims that when UK officials tried to find out how many crack and heroin addicts were on benefits in Scotland, they were denied the information by the Scottish Government.

The row now looks set to throw the Edinburgh and London administrations into an unprecedented constitutional battle.

The UK Government has control over benefits payments across the UK. But Scottish ministers are in overall charge of the NHS and anti-drugs policy in Scotland, meaning they would have to administer the changes.

Speaking exclusively to Scotland on Sunday, Purnell said: "The SNP Government has complained that there is not enough evidence (to push through the plans], yet they are now blocking attempts to reassess the problem in Scotland."

Purnell said researchers at Glasgow University had been asked to compile new data on the number of drug addicts on benefits. He added: "They (the SNP Government] are saying they're not prepared to release the evidence. I challenge Alex Salmond to allow his officials to release this data, stop blocking NHS drug treatment for people on benefits and tell his MPs to vote for these plans on Tuesday."

A UK Government source said: "A revised estimate using more recent data has been carried out elsewhere in the UK. However, despite complaining there was not enough evidence to support the UK Labour Government's plans, the SNP Government has blocked our statisticians from having access to the new data."