There’s no shortage in the Tory party of people who could tell Iain Duncan Smith a few things about drug use. David Cameron, Boris Jonson, George Osborne and Louise Mensch have all happily indulged in the past despite the heavy criminal sanctions that surround using drugs. Working class people regularly face arrest, court appearances and even jail for doing the type of things Louise Mensch laughed off as little more than tabloid gossip recently.
But there is a world of difference between a bunch of braying toffs hoovering up lines of coke and the experience of working class people who are living with a drug or alcohol dependency.
Iain Duncan Smith’s plans to strip benefits from those that Jobcentre staff diagnose as being drug or alcohol dependent shows a shocking ignorance of how addiction affects, and very often destroys, people lives. As Kerry Katona (no doubt an avid reader of this blog) said on This Week last night, addiction occurs as a process of ever declining events, it is not a lifestyle choice. No-one sets out to be a heroin addict or 24 hour a day drinker. And few people wish to stay that way.
Most addicts, whether hooked on illegal drugs or even fags, know they should quit. Many spend half their lives talking about it. But the truth of addiction, particularly if you happen to be poor, is that there rarely comes a period of stability when that desire can be translated into action. This is compounded by the woeful lack of treatment for both drug and alcohol dependency, which despite Iain Duncan Smith’s latest shambolic scheme, are currently being stripped to the bone by government cuts.
Even most smokers could understand that to make a major lifestyle change, which giving up an addiction represents, requires a degree of financial and emotional stability. People don’t tend to give up fags in the middle of a messy divorce, or following a bereavement. For the same reason, should someone end up on the streets, or even lose their job, they are likely to increase the amount they drink or use drugs. Increased stress, anxiety or depression makes people use more, not less, because substance misuse is a way of escaping from reality.
This is why you can’t bully people out of an addiction. When someone is using drugs or alcohol chaotically then making their lives worse will not make them stop. It is likely to do quite the opposite. Stripping away someone’s benefits because they use drugs or alcohol will only increase the pressure and desperation they feel. Sex work, small time dealing,begging and petty crime will all be used to fill the financial gap, with all the additional chaos these things can bring. Iain Duncan Smith’s Plans could not be more perfectly designed to drag people even further down the path to substance misuse, poverty, homelessness, exploitation and into the ever waiting arms of the criminal justice system. You do not give someone a hand up by kicking them whilst they are down. And even the most ruthless piece of Tory scum should be able to do the sums. It’s far cheaper to keep someone on benefits than it is to lock them up.
People need a safe space to make the decision to quit and to enter the process of recovery. That means stable housing, a support network and an income that is at least adequate to pay the bills and put food on the table. It may even mean a maintenance dose of methadone, or even heroin. It also usually means some form of treatment. Like all mental health conditions, effective treatment varies from person to person, so that could mean therapy, residential rehab, peer support or even (recent comments acknowledged) one of the 12 Step provisions such as Alcoholic Anonymous.
Only when these things are in place does anyone stand a chance of getting better. Knee jerk solutions like stripping benefit payments or enforced and unsuitable treatments will only lead people further down the road of addiction and despair. Once again Iain Duncan Smith is laying the foundations for disaster by reveling in his ignorance of substance misuse.
The above pic is widely believed to be David Cameron off his tits at an illegal acid house party in the late 1980s. The youtube video it is taken from is still available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5RLNdWQPps