This report lays bare the reality of substance abuse and addiction in Britain today. This ongoing challenge affects millions of people and has huge costs. Alcohol abuse costs taxpayers £21 billion a year and drugs £15 billion. While costs matter, it is the human consequences that present the real tragedy. The abuse of substances is a pathway to poverty and can lead to family breakdown and child neglect, homelessness, crime, debt, and long-term worklessness. From its impact on children to its consequences for those in later life, addiction destroys lives, wrecks families and blights communities.
The scale of the problem is shocking. 1.6 million people are dependent on alcohol in England alone. One in seven children under the age of one live with a substance-abusing parent, and more than one in five (2.6 million) live with a parent who drinks hazardously. 335,000 (one in 37) children live with a parent who is addicted to drugs.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has been encouraged by some of the commitments contained within the Drug Strategy 2010 and by the efforts of some reformers within government. The move to a recovery-oriented system is an important step to ensuring that harm reduction is only the first step along a path to abstinence and full recovery.
Challenges persist, however, as many vested interests remain entrenched within the treatment system. Supporters of substitute treatment remain unconvinced by the possibilities of full- and long-term recovery, and are resistant to reform.
Alarmingly, some commissioners are withdrawing support for effective services. The CSJ has learned that 55 per cent of local authorities have cut funding to residential rehabilitation centres whilst harm reduction services that maintain people in their addiction have been preserved under the NHS ring-fence. These rehabilitation centres, which the Prime Minister has rightly backed in the past, have proved time and again to be an effective way of breaking the cycle of addiction and must be supported.
In this report, we also highlight the system’s lack of ambition to tackle alcohol abuse, despite its rising cost. While two-thirds of the 300,000 drug addicts in England get treatment, only a small minority (approximately seven per cent) alcohol dependants get similar help. Furthermore, by withdrawing its plans for a minimum unit price, the Government has missed an opportunity to tackle the increased availability of super cheap, strong alcohol.
Parents and children, together with addicts and taxpayers, are calling for action. In this report we outline the challenges; in the coming year the CSJ will publish policy recommendations to help solve Britain’s drug and alcohol crisis.