The next Government must commit itself to addressing social breakdown. In the field of drugs and alcohol misuse, as with severe debt and worklessness, policy must be ambitious for those currently reliant on the state. It is not enough to maintain people in dependence and consider our duty done. Economically this is in Britain’s long term economic interest but, more importantly, it is the right thing to do by our countrymen.
Fundamentally, the next Government must realise it needs to invest to help people transform their lives. Although social finance initiatives hold a great deal of potential in this sphere, it will be some time before this opportunity can be fully developed. The next Government, therefore, should levy an additional charge upon the alcohol industry for the dedicated purpose of funding rehabilitation and reintegration.
The CSJ outlined one way this might be done in the form of a treatment tax. This small payment, £0.01 initially on each unit of alcohol sold off-license, would raise over £1 billion in the next Parliament.
With such investment, rehabilitation centres (including residential), supported dry accommodation, and other recovery capital-building services, could be expanded to meet the demand of those hundreds of thousands of people dependent on opiate, crack and/or alcohol. With approximately 300,000 children with a parent addicted to drugs and 700,000 with a parent dependent on alcohol, this cannot wait.
Beyond such investment, we need to appoint a Recovery Champion for England. Such an individual would ensure that resources are well spent; that localism delivers for all local people; and, to challenge the stigma around addiction and recovery.
The rising challenge posed by NPS (legal highs) requires a swift and determined response. The report by the Expert Panel is a good overview for what our response should look like. On enforcement, the CSJ is gladdened to see the Panel agree with our recommendation that the Irish Model provides a guide on how to proceed. This legislation will allow police to close down ‘head shop’ and other establishments which persist in selling NPS. We will also need to see adequate resources flowing into the National Crime Agency to allow online trade to be tackle. This approach, however, must be accompanied by effective prevention and treatment reorientation.
We must make more of every opportunity at intervention we get, be it in the criminal justice, welfare, or health services. Although effective at treating the symptoms, we have a poor record on addressing the behaviour which is putting untold pressure on public services.
In our health service, we must address the shocking rate of alcohol-related re-admissions – up 85 per cent in the last five years according to CSJ Freedom of Information requests.
In our welfare system, we must ensure the next phase of the Work Programme has a more supportive offer for those furthest from the job market. For example, we need a mixture of higher up-front payments for service providers and rewards for those who get people nearer employment, if not actually in work, for example, abstinent from drugs. At the same time, we must ensure that with the welcome drive to personal budgeting accompanying Universal Credit, we must ensure that vulnerable people get additional support, for example, through the piloting of welfare cards.
Finally, in criminal justice, action is needed to address the shocking levels of reoffending. Figures show over half (56 per cent) of offenders on community orders given a drug rehabilitation requirement (DRR) reoffended within a year of being sentenced.
Thus we need to build on the success of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court by extending the problem-solving approach to criminal justice. Similarly, we need treatment in prisons which breaks the cycle of addiction and a probation service which provides effective aftercare. To this end, we welcome the Lord Chancellor’s announcement that mental health in prison will be a priority for the next Parliament.
Pulling all this together, the CSJ hopes that any future Government maintains the Social Justice Cabinet Committee. Chaired by a senior cabinet minister, it is essential that key departments are brought together to drive through policies which can tackle disadvantage in Britain.
This article first appeared on the Drugscope comment and opinion blog