First published: 8th September 2023
Edited: 21st November 2023. The government have published a response to the Committee’s report, and their responses are summarised beneath points listed below.
The Home Affairs Committee works to scrutinise the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Home Office and associated public bodies. ‘Drugs’, the third report of the 2022-23 Parliamentary session, examines recent action by the Home Office, the government’s latest drugs strategy (From Harm to Hope), alongside legal frameworks such as the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) and the New Psychoactive Substances Act (2016).
At the start of this year, Collective Voice, along with a number of our sponsors and partners, submitted evidence to the Committee, along with taking part in a treatment and recovery sector roundtable.
The conclusions of the report are wide ranging, but a number of clear and welcome recommendations are made as regards to the treatment and recovery system, many of which respond to the issues raised in our submission to the committee. Overall, the report questions whether government policy on drugs is evidence-based, or based upon a public health approach. Of the Drugs Strategy, the report states that it “signals a shift towards recognising the need for a holistic response to drugs […] However, the Government’s response could go further by adopting a broader range of public health-based harm reduction methods in tandem with its support of law enforcement efforts to tackle the illicit drugs market.”
Evidence submitted by Collective Voice has been represented in Committee recommendations specific to treatment and recovery aspects of the Drugs strategy:
In line with Collective Voice and voluntary sector evidence on the negative impact of short-term funding cycles, the Committee has recommended that funding be provided throughout the 10-year life cycle of the strategy, that public health grant funding be ringfenced for drug and alcohol treatment by LAs, and that three months’ notice be given ahead of future funding allocations.
Government response: the government have rejected these recommendations, stating that it is not possible to announce funding beyond the Spending Review period, but claims to be ‘committed to giving as much notice as is feasible’
On stigma, our evidence highlighted that the strategy states an intention to “create a system where no one falls through the gaps, where there is no stigma attached to addiction and [drug dependency] is treated as a chronic health condition”. The Committee report quotes our position that “the strategy provides no specific actions to support this ambition”, and recommends the development of a cross-departmental action plan to tackle stigma to be published by February 2024.
Government response: the government partially accepts this, with the Department of Health to ‘explore with all relevant departments’ how to tackle stigma, but it does not outline specific action or timeframes for this. Regarding the need for an anti-Stigma action-plan, the government point to some work being piloted under Project ADDER.
A number of recommendations are furthermore made in relation to the needs of underserved communities, and the strategy’s neglect in identifying what specific barriers women and members of ethnic minority groups face in accessing treatment. Finally, our suggestion that family support be considered a legitimate intervention for funding was represented within the report, with the Committee recommending specialist practical and mental health support for families be embedded in services.
Government response: the government claims that it accepts these recommendations, but sets out no specific action in relation to the needs of underserved communities, instead outlining a number of pieces of work aimed at improving overall access to services, and which were already underway at the time of the Committee’s report. Similarly, the government’s ‘acceptance’ of recommendations around family support comes without any new or relevant commitments.
In addition, the report sets out that a greater emphasis on public health approaches would include central funding for diamorphine-assisted treatment, establishing safe consumption facilities, expanding drug testing services, having police carry Naloxone, and diverting people away from the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the Committee has concluded that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 requires reform to promote a greater role for public health, that classification (scheduling) is not reflective of scientific evidence, and that the role and authority of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs ought to be clarified.
Government response: the government states that the existing Drugs Strategy gives strong support for harm reduction approaches, but rejects recommendations around drug consumption rooms, expanded drug checking, or a review of scheduling, while making no commitments on diversion schemes.
The Home Affairs Committee has identified a number of issues within the government’s current approach to drugs, and has reaffirmed the need for a committed, long-term response to the use of and dependence on drugs. We warmly welcome these recommendations which echo many of Collective Voice’s own positions and which, if pursued, would allow the government to deliver on the aims of From Harm to Hope, and address the growing crisis in drug related deaths. It will be interesting to see how government will respond to these recommendations, as close as we are to a forthcoming election. The recommendations do though provide a useful platform from which we and the wider sector can continue to influence government, opposition parties and engage in dialogue with officials.
The impact of the cost of living crisis further emphasises the need for long term and sustainable funding for drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services.
The Sentencing Bill is shortly due to enter Committee stage in Parliament. It includes two clauses which would bring positive changes to sentencing by, if well implemented, reducing pressure on the prison system and ensuring that people whose contact with the criminal justice system is related to the way they use drugs and alcohol are able to get the treatment and support they need.
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