Government welfare systems in any country share a primary goal of providing assistance to citizens who are in need

Government welfare systems in any country share a primary goal of providing assistance to citizens who are in need. Controversy over welfare implementation is abundant, as there is no way to ensure that everyone who needs welfare receives it, and there is no effective way to keep those who don’t from getting it. A proposed method of keeping welfare funds away from those who misuse it—specifically for drug use—is drug testing welfare recipients.
In 2012, there were about 52.2 million people in the United States that participated in government assistance programs (21.3 Percent). In Australia, “about 50% of Australian households receive a government payment” (Whiteford). These drug tests have the potential to affect millions—anyone on welfare could be impacted.
In support of the drug testing, it can be argued that this saves the government money. In theory, the money saved can be put back into welfare, and towards people who aren’t abusing drugs. Furthermore, it is argued this is in the best interest of those who test positive–the removal of benefits could be an incentive for drug users to seek help. Rather than punishment, “people who test positive multiple times will be referred to medical professionals for assessment and appropriate treatment”, which could be seen as an opportunity for recovery (Lang).
However, a major opposing argument is that the costs of the drug tests outweigh the benefits. Despite the many people tested, trials across U.S. states and countries such as New Zealand and Australia consistently show that a very small number of people test positive. The costs of the drug tests compared to the amount of those who actually test positive indicate a waste of time and resources. Additionally, drug testing welfare recipients without any reason other than that they’re on welfare could be considered unconstitutional or a violation of human rights. Lastly, drug testing welfare recipients creates an unfair stigma for people receiving government aid.
The presented views directly contrast each other, but in order to make any judgment regarding the topic, they must both be evaluated in different contexts, considering the different impacts on the government, people, and economy.
According to those in favor of the drug tests, the new trial programs that are appearing in the United States and Australia suggest that drug testing welfare recipients is a good idea. The main goals of these drug tests are to lower the number of drug-users and ensure that welfare funds aren’t being abused for drug use. Those in favor of these programs argue that this is the best way to get drug-users to seek help, as they likely won’t do it themselves. If they know that they will be drug tested and potentially lose their benefits, they might be compelled to get treatment. Kylie Lang outlines the argument for drug testing in her article for the popular Australian newspaper, the Courier Mail. She first addresses the alarming amount drug use in Australia, citing it as a simple reason for the drug tests—to get people off of drugs. Data from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre supports this: “Methamphetamine death rates doubled in Australia from 2009 to 2015” (Darke). She also makes the point that taxpayers don’t want to fund illegal activity. “Many Australians are fed up with their tax dollars going to support people who are unwilling to help themselves” (Lang). She claims that despite the low numbers of positive tests that are expected, it’s better that some are getting treatment than none.
Lang provides a logical argument for wanting the drug tests, but it’s primarily based on reasoning rather than facts. Overall her argument is not supported very strongly. It gives an outline of a plan and a perspective into Australia’s system and their intentions, but doesn’t cite many sources. However, the few sources she does use, such as Darke’s information, are accurate and credible.
Lang refutes other arguments within her article, particularly those referring to the well-known disaster that are New Zealand’s drug testing trials. To reassure her audience, she quotes Andrew Laming, a member of the House of Representatives who helped design the proposal. He argues that the trials in New Zealand only tested job applicants and that “technology has improved” since then, making them different from Australia’s trials (qtd. in Lang).
In the United States, Utah “has saved more than $350,000 in its first year” of drug screening welfare applicants (Price). While only twelve tests turned out positive, approximately 250 people simply didn’t meet the requirements for the drug tests and therefore lost their benefits. All of the money they would have received was kept by the government and saved instead. Price uses the Representative who made the screening law, Brad Wilson, to further the argument in his article. According to Wilson, “the operating assumption is that people abandoned the process because they have a substance abuse issue” (qtd. in Price). Price’s main argument is that rather than wasting money, the drug tests saved enough money from welfare recipients who did not follow up on the drug screenings to cover the costs. This also helps identify people who might need help, like Lang mentioned. Wilson thinks similarly: “But if we can help the 10 percent or so that are challenged with this, why wouldn’t we?” (qtd. in Price).
The article is clearly in favor of the program, but it does address opposing arguments. The article uses little loaded language. It focuses more on factual reports, though it might lean a little more conservatively as it is a Utah paper and Utah is more conservative than liberal. As for the issue of those who lose their benefits by not following up with the tests, it is shown as something that should be looked into and not completely ignored. However, this argument is limited as it only goes over the perceived success in Utah in the United States. Deseret News is not a national or global newspaper, even if it’s one of the biggest in Utah.
At least twenty states in the United States have passed legislation regarding drug screening welfare recipients or applicants (Drug). While some have been halted or are still waiting to go into effect, mostly due to the slow court system, it is becoming a more popular idea. The drug screening prevents the government and taxpayers from having to fund drug use, it helps those struggling with addiction by setting them on a path to rehabilitation, and it saves money.
However, many argue that this is not the case.
Those opposed to drug testing welfare recipients claim the costs of the programs are too great for such little results. Bryce Covert and Josh Israel describe the screenings as “expensive and not especially effective” in their article about drug testing welfare recipients. They examine the ten different states in the U.S. that have implemented the drug tests and their results. They found that in 2015, the ten states spent a combined total of over $850,000 and there were 321 positive tests between them–in some states, there were no positive tests at all (Covert & Israel). Many consider this to be a waste of time and resources. Instead of using the limited time and money for the tests, they can be used for reforming the welfare system or for rehabilitation.
Covert and Israel’s argument utilizes simple logic: the money is being wasted by using it for drug tests. Presenting alternatives to the drug tests helps the argument sound less extreme and more reasonable. Their argument is well supported with facts and statistics provided by their research in the States. Their research was administered by the news outlet, ThinkProgress, which is well known for providing factual statistics that other news sources cite for their own articles. However, ThinkProgress is notorious for being factual but biased. It tends to lean more liberally, take definite stances, and use loaded language. The authors, Covert and Israel, both consistently write for ThinkProgress, and their articles tend to be very politically charged and on the liberal side.
The trend for the drug tests seems to be that there are very few positive results despite a large number of tests. For example, in January of 2018, drug screenings in West Virginia came back with four positive tests out of nearly nine hundred (Beck). The positive tests in New Zealand’s program came out to include less than 0.5% of those tested over a span of two years (Welfare).
It is also argued that drug testing violates human rights because it invades privacy without any reasonable suspicion. Many countries believe that everyone has the right of privacy. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human rights states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy” (qtd. in Legal). Similarly, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens’ right to “be secure” or maintain privacy against “unreasonable searches and seizures”. The only exception is if a warrant is issued upon “probable cause” (Fourth). In his report, Ilan Wurman comes to the conclusion that the drug tests are unconstitutional. “Governments wishing to subject their welfare recipients to suspicionless drug testing will have to make a far greater showing that…public safety is at issue”. He argues that there is not enough reasonable suspicion or probable cause to support the drug tests.
The source was a Stanford Law review, with sufficient research behind it, making it credible. It’s factual and analytical, and while it does take a side at the end, the report is long and in depth and balances different arguments. Ilan Wurman, with Stanford Law and Cambridge University, has since published numerous books and articles often concerning law or political ideas.
Finally, drug testing welfare recipients unfairly criminalizes those on welfare, enforcing a negative stigma. Darlena Cunha, someone with experience in the welfare system, says that there is already “a spiral of shame and embarrassment” that comes with having to receive welfare. She says that rather than “demonizing” welfare recipients, taxpayer money should be used to help those in the system become independent (Cunha). New Zealand’s drug testing program has been criticized and been proven largely unsuccessful, but according to an Australian news source, the New Zealand program “may have started out like our program, but was heavily watered down because of concerns it stigmatised the vulnerable” (Welfare). Ross Bell, executive director of the NZ Drug Foundation, says that “these kinds of policies play into those incorrect stereotypes about the kinds of people who are receiving government welfare”, and that it’s “cynical politics” (Welfare).
The unnamed author presents more support against drug testing, using different quotes from people who specifically criticize it. ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) is Australia’s national broadcaster, very well-known and widely used, and is funded by the Australian government. It is believed to be unbiased, but as a major news source, there are many who appreciate it and many who don’t.
Based on the perspectives and evidence evaluated, it’s concluded that welfare drug tests should not be implemented. The results have been extremely low, suggesting that it is a waste of time, money, and resources. Since funds are wasted, welfare drug testing does not protect the taxpayers’ money. Instead of making any positive impact, the tests are further stigmatizing welfare recipients. Furthermore, there is no need to risk performing an unconstitutional practice at such a cost when it solves nothing.
Only a select few countries are experimenting with these drug tests for a reason: it’s not a good idea. This money should be spent trying to reform the welfare system.
If the research were to be continued, more attention would be spent on the actual welfare system and how it works, particularly across the world. It would be interesting to research the funds that welfare systems receive and how they distribute that money. Further research would also attempt to find what’s wrong with welfare and subsequently find solutions for those issues. There is a fundamental distrust in welfare and its recipients, and that’s something that should be explored.