This week saw the publication of Ambitious for Recovery, the addiction strand ofBreakthrough Britain 2015. This is a blueprint for tackling poverty in the UK which the Centre for Social Justice will be campaigning to get into the main political party manifestos before the next general election. Acceptance of our recommendations to tackle addiction will be crucial for any Government hoping to tackle disadvantage and the public recognise this – 90 per cent think having a drug addicted parent is important in determining whether a child grows up in poverty (more than any other factor sighted).
Among key recommendations were: a Treatment Tax of a ‘penny on a unit’ on off-licence sales to fund the expansion of abstinence-based rehab; banning sales of ‘legal highs’ and reform to the welfare system to make it more supportive of recovery. One key recommendation of our report that didn’t make the coverage on Sky, BBC or ITV, however, was our call for the appointment of a Recovery Champion for England. Although not the most eye-catching recommendation, it is one that has the potential to drive recovery in this country at little cost.
The Coalition’s creation of Public Health England has seen addiction treatment services devolved to a local authority level. In many cases this has led to innovation, yet in others it has resulted in short-termist cuts or a failure to reorientate the focus of treatment towards recovery.
To remedy this we have recommended the appointment of a Recovery Champion for England (RCfE). This individual would provide a rallying point for those seeking to break open the treatment system and drive access to recovery in England. Such an appointment in the addictions treatment sector would do much to address the concerns of those who fear the development of a post code lottery in recovery.
The model upon which we suggest the RCfE be based is the Independent Reviewer of Anti-Terror Legislation. This individual exists to assess the Government’s Anti-terror laws, and makes recommendations to Government if he deems it necessary. He has access to confidential data, services and secure locations. Although a public official, the Reviewer is independent of Government, enjoys the respect and confidence of NGOs and has an effective rapport with Britain’s diverse communities. The Reviewer has the option to go before Parliament or the media if he/she believes his recommendations are not being heeded.
With access to treatment services, hospitals, prisons and national treatment data, the RCfE would drive improvement and provide a point of contact for those with concerns about their local treatment services.
Such a champion also has the potential to tackle stigma by dispelling the myth that those with an addiction cannot overcome their condition. A very powerful signal would be sent by the next Government that it intends to back a ‘society of the second chance’ if the new RCfE is in recovery him/herself. An example of this is Michael Botticelli, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and also some 20 years in recovery. As Professor Keith Humphreys, former drugs policy officer to President Obama, told the CSJ:
Active addiction is highly visible, but recovery is often private and little noticed. As a result, both addicted people and the rest of the citizenry become pessimistic about the prospects of addicted people and can’t see any positive future for them. That’s why it is enormously important that the White House chief drug policy official, Mike Botticelli, is in recovery. He is the perfect illustration that a life of recovery is possible and that it can involve the highest levels of public service and career achievement.
Of course we need a Treatment Tax to fund more rehab, however, the appointment of a Recovery Champion for England would provide impetus for treatment services everywhere to raise their game. Furthermore, as a personification of what people can achieve with the right support, the Champion would serve as both example and inspiration for those still reaching for recovery.
Drug treatment is a devolved matter. We recommend that Wales, Scotland and the Stormont Governments appoint their own national Recovery Champion..