Ambitious for Recovery: The Centre for Social Justice calls for a ‘treatment tax’ on alcohol to fund abstinence-based treatment

This morning (17 August) the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) published a report on addiction in the UK. The headline point in the report is a call that a ‘treatment tax’ should be added to the cost of alcohol in shops to fund a new generation of abstinence-based rehabilitation centres.

The Ambitious for Recovery report is the latest report in CSJ’s Breakthrough Britain 2015 series.  The full report can be found here.

It also warns that deaths linked to ‘legal highs’ could overtake those linked to heroin by 2016.

The report says that residential treatment – the most effective form of abstinence-based treatment – has been continually cut and are calling for this to be reversed, and that the treatment sector is mainly concerned with ‘managing’ addicts rather than promoting abstinence from drugs and alcohol. These are points I have repeatedly made on this blog and in talks I have given over a number of years.

I was pleased to have had the opportunity to have input into the CSJ report and strongly argued that there should be much greater ambition for those with addictions, parking people on methadone for years on end was ethically wrong, and I argued for an increase in the unit price of alcohol.

Other points in the CSJ report include:

  • There are 1.6 million English adults dependent on alcohol
  • Almost 50,000 heroin addicts have been ‘parked’ on state-supplied methadone for more than four years
  • UK’s youth ‘legal high’ use is the highest in Europe
  • Addiction and worklessness are closely linked – for example dependent drinkers are twice as likely to claim benefits.

The recommendations in the report, in addition to the treatment tax, include:

  • New powers to punish high street shops selling dangerous ‘legal highs’
  • Addicts who continually refuse treatment could have benefits reduced.

The report says 300,000 people in England are addicted to opiates and/or crack, 1.6 million are dependent on alcohol and one in seven children under the age of one live with a substance-abusing parent.

Every year drugs cost society around £15 billion and alcohol £21 billion.

A ‘treatment tax’ should be added to off-licence alcohol sales to fund rehab for people with alcohol and drug addictions. Under the scheme, a levy of a penny per unit would be added by the end of the next Parliament to fund recovery services to the tune of £1.1billion over the five years.

CSJ Director, Christian Guy, has said: “Addiction rips into families, makes communities less safe and entrenches poverty. For years full recovery has been the preserve of the wealthy – closed off to the poorest people and to those with problems who need to rely on a public system. We want to break this injustice wide open.”

While I agree with the general point he raises about recovery being the preserve of the wealthy, there are notable exceptions to this generalisation. For example, of those with whom BHT’s Addiction Services (Detox Support Project and Recovery Project) worked with last year, just 18% had stable accommodation. Two had a social housing tenancy, three were owner occupiers, while twelve had tenancies in the private rented sector. I doubt that even these seventeen could have been described as being ‘wealthy’!

I will also be blogging during September on another theme from the Breakthrough Britain 2015 series, on the future of the voluntary and community sector, which I had a small part in writing. That looks at, amongst other subjects, the need for improved commissioning. Our initial ‘state of the nation’ report Something’s got to give: The state of Britain’s voluntary and community sector was published in November 2013.

Note: I updated the original post by including in paragraph 2 the link to the full report)
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One thought on “Ambitious for Recovery: The Centre for Social Justice calls for a ‘treatment tax’ on alcohol to fund abstinence-based treatment

  1. I was reading about parents beginning to picket and boycott corner shops and tobacconists who sell “legal highs”. As usual policies lag behind lived experience.

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