As one of the largest drug and alcohol charities in England, we welcome the 10-year drug strategy published yesterday which is a significant milestone for the sector and has the potential to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.
The Government noted in their announcement that the £780 million in funding that they have committed will rebuild the sector and that is what we need to do – rebuild. A decade of disinvestment and sporadic funding has decimated drug and alcohol services at a time when demand has increased and the number of people dying has risen by almost 80 per cent. This new strategy will help us get back on our feet but there is a lot of catching up to be done, especially in light of the pandemic which was not factored into the Dame Carol Black Review and has caused disproportionate harm to people who use drugs.
Humankind is committed to rebuilding services and going further by developing and improving services to expand the evidence base trial new ways of working. In short, we recognise the need to rebuild and improve services and use this new investment to reach more people.
We greatly welcome the Government’s intention to fast-track funding to the areas of greatest need, including seaside towns and cities in the North of England, where people are far more likely to die as a result of drugs. For too long postcodes and poverty levels have impacted the treatment that someone can receive, and targeted investment will help address this.
Despite the much-heralded crime and enforcement elements of yesterday’s announcement, this strategy indicates that the Government has begun to recognise that drug use is also a health issue. Drug use is often the result of a toxic combination of poverty, social exclusion, trauma and instability – and incarceration alone is likely to exacerbate rather than cure any of those causes. We strongly support the approach of diverting people from the criminal justice system and into the evidence-based clinical and psychosocial services that have been proven to offer people the best chance of recovery.
A third of people who use opiates are experiencing housing problems and two-thirds of people who use drugs report having a mental health issue. We are pleased that the Government will be investing in a range of supports that will connect people to a network of expert providers to help people sustain their recovery and is the way we have worked for more than 30 years, providing housing, training and work opportunities, and support for people leaving the prison system, in addition to treatment services. As a leading provider of the Individual and Placement Support employment scheme it is great news that these will be expanded to every local authority.
While this strategy contains few bold new ideas, it does provide the funding, support and commissioning standards that the sector has been requesting for many years. And, most importantly of all, this strategy will save lives, help people to build resilient futures and ensure the most marginalised members of society get the support they need.
It is now up to all those working in the sector to use the extra investment to shape and develop service delivery so that we have more impact on more people by expanding the evidence base and the range of services we offer.
We thank Dame Carol Black for putting forward the recommendations that brought about this strategy, and we are grateful to all our partners in the sector that will join us in implementing it and helping move the sector forward.
Paul Townsley, CEO of Humankind