Cash incentives: Worth every penny

By Jim Giles “ANGER over NHS plan to give addicts iPods,” ran the headline. The UK’s National Health Service is notoriously hard up, so news that government advisers were suggesting doctors offer drug addicts prizes as an incentive to stay clean was certain to raise some hackles. Why should “these people” with “self-inflicted” problems get priority, a patients’ advocate was quoted as asking in the article, published this July in The Sunday Times. “This country really is on its head,” concluded a reader in the newspaper’s online comments section. Such reactions are typical when anyone raises the idea that addicts should be rewarded for changing their ways. Yet the fury over the proposal fails to account for one critical fact: incentive schemes work. And not just with drug abusers. Rewards have been used to help smokers quit, persuade parents to keep their children in school and boost uptake of healthcare. Far from being a waste of money, all the indications are that they can save money by reducing crime and other problems associated with poverty and drug use. With over a decade’s worth of positive evidence, incentive schemes are finally getting the recognition they deserve. This summer, New York became the first city in a developed nation to try to alleviate poverty by offering incentives to improve people’s engagement in areas such as education,
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