On Monday 6th December, the government launched a new 10 year drug strategy. This follows a couple of years of raising expectations that we would see an overall addictions strategy – covering alcohol and prescribed drugs, as well as behavioural addictions such as gambling. The focus on illegal drugs inhibits a more comprehensive approach to tackling addiction in the UK. The treatment and recovery parts of the strategy do however provide for a treatment system that covers both alcohol and illegal drugs.
And this part of the strategy is positive – the government has accepted the recommendations in the review by Dame Carol Black, including an increase in funding for the addiction treatment sector, housing and employment of £780 million across the 3 years to 2024. The Dame Carol Black review found that the country’s treatment and recovery system had become overstretched and underfunded through lack of political support, and poor and unfocused strategy, over the last 10 years. Dame Carol recommended a significant new investment in our sector, and a much tighter focus on ensuring the money is spent on services that deliver real results in terms of reducing deaths and drug related crime, and increasing recovery.
The Forward Trust is particularly supportive of this focus on recovery outcomes – we have long said that, even within declining budgets, there has been far too little effort to ensure that every area of the country (and every prison) has a strong recovery community, a treatment system that inspires and supports people to overcome addiction, and a strong family support network. While it is welcome that the new strategy has warm words about this ambition, there is much work to do to make sure the new money achieves this transformation in practice and reverses the declines of the last 10 years. In October more than 60 Parliamentarians from all political parties joined The Forward Trust and Dan Carden MP to urge the Prime Minister to invest fully in Dame Carol Black’s recommendations. I am certain this support made a significant difference, but we should not lose momentum on the opportunity for recovery from this strategy. It is crucial that the investment announced increases access to residential treatment and recovery services for anyone who wants it.
On a more critical note, it is depressing to see the strategy launched with a flurry of headlines around the scourge of drug addicts swamping the country with crime and disorder. This is political spin at its worst – you don’t need to condemn and stigmatise millions of people to justify investment in the addiction services. Only two months ago, The Forward Trust joined partner charities to launch our ‘Taking Action on Addiction’ campaign with the Duchess of Cambridge for exactly this reason – a compassionate society should understand that most people struggling with addiction have come from childhoods characterised by abuse, neglect and poverty, or are facing mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety or loneliness. A compassionate response is to provide care, understanding, and the belief in people’s potential for recovery. It is good that the government are providing money for us to do this better, but we can do without the stigmatising language. Language that failed to match up to the ambition of the strategy and does little to inspire people that change is imaginable, that their life is worth investing in and recovery is possible.
Mike Trace is CEO of The Forward Trust.