Yesterday it was tackling education failure. Friday was about tackling debt. Today the focus of the social justice policy group turns to drug and alcohol addiction and the Sunday newspapers are full of the group’s recommendations.
Grabbing most headlines is the Addictions Working Group’s recommendation that extra taxes should be levied on beers, wines and spirits in order to pay for new treatments for people with addiction problems and to help fund the policing costs of binge drinking. The Mail on Sunday suggests that the tax would amount to £1.4bn – equivalent to 7p on a pint. Such a tax would fit in with Project Cameron’s general inclination to shift the burden of taxation on to things that are bad – like pollution – and away from things that are good – like the family and enterprise. The report says that a tax increase would only restore the real price of alcohol to the levels of the 1990s. Gordon Brown kept down taxes on alcohol while he was Chancellor because of the alleged impact on the UK drinks industry of booze cruises and other alcohol ‘smuggling’ from lower tax jurisdictions.
The SJPG estimates that the cost of alcohol and drug addiction is nearly £40bn pa to the British economy and an increase in expenditure on treatment will save money in the long-run.
Iain Duncan Smith’s group wants a switch away from ‘harm reduction’ approaches to drug treatment and much greater investment in ‘harm avoidance’ services. There is a recommendation for a £30m programme of drug abstinence programmes for the nation’s prisons. The report notes:
"Spending on “harm reduction” measures – such as substitute prescribing, needle exchange, and harm minimisation advice – runs at ten times the level of spending on residential and community rehabilitation programmes designed to make people permanently drug-free."
As reported in The Observer, the SJPG also wants cannabis reclassified as a class B drug, "carrying much greater penalties for possession and trafficking." The potency of cannabis has grown significantly over the years and is now associated with an increase in mental health problems. Iain Duncan Smith suggests that the slogan ‘war on drugs’ should be binned: "[It] sends the wrong signals. It is not a war on drugs. It is about getting kids off drugs."
In today’s Sunday Telegraph Iain Duncan Smith overviews his prescriptions to mend Britain’s broken society.
12.30pm: Speaking about an hour ago on Sky News Iain Duncan Smith spotlighted the rise in juvenile alcoholism as a primary reason for his group’s recommendation of higher taxes on alcohol. He argued that young people’s drinking levels were particularly sensitive to changes in price.