The publication of the Dame Carol Black review into improving access to employment provides a real opportunity for the alcohol and drug treatment sector which we must seize.
Dame Carol correctly identifies a system that isn’t working. Drug and alcohol misuse has not been a priority for DWP or its Work Programme contractors. Employers are sceptical about recruiting individuals with complex needs and problematic histories. Treatment providers have been insufficiently focused on building and sustaining motivation to work into their routine engagement with service users. There is no agreed understanding of best practice to engage this population in the workplace and the information flows between the different players involved are poor.
Rather than opting for the tabloid pleasing enforced treatment model trailed by David Cameron’s number 10 when the review was launched, Dame Carol proposes to make employment outcomes a shared responsibility of the treatment system and Job Centre Plus, as DWP’s local presence in communities. This will require investment from JCP to ensure it has staff with the skills and time to engage with a challenging and distrustful population and that it is prepared to invest scarce local management capacity into integrating its offer with the interventions available within local authority commissioned drug and alcohol treatment systems. The challenge for treatment will be for local authorities to ensure that treatment providers have the capacity to engage with JCP and for practitioners to place employability and employment on the agenda from the very outset of each individual’s treatment journey.
Dame Carol has identified the Individual Placement Support approach currently being used to support people who have severe mental illness as a useful model for the drug and alcohol dependent population and is proposing that this should be trialled to develop best practice models of intervention. However Dame Carol also emphasises that government needs to actively support employers if this population is not to continue to be routinely excluded from the workforce despite the best efforts of all concerned.
The publication of this report is timely; a new drug strategy is about to be published by the Home Office, and the Department of Health is consulting on updated clinical guidelines. Improving access to employment is an aspiration that will feature prominently in both of these statements of intent. As treatment providers we know that being in employment is not only beneficial to individuals’ economic circumstances, it also boosts their entire experience of life and greatly enhances their capacity to recover. Dame Carol acknowledges the effectiveness of the treatment system in delivering robust evidence based interventions to achieve outcomes that compare well internationally, but she also recognises that Inadequate pathways to employment have too often been a significant drag on the recovery prospects of many individuals.
Collective Voice welcomed this Review as we saw it as an ideal opportunity to remedy this long standing problem which, as the review points out, treatment providers cannot address in isolation. Dame Carol has provided a roadmap identifying realistic practical steps to give as many service users as possible a real prospect to earn their own livings and provide for their families. Collective Voice is committed to work with DWP, Local Authorities, and all other interested parties to grasp this opportunity on behalf of service users and the entire community.