Clause 9

Welfare Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Claimants dependent on drugs etc.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I wish to speak about several issues relating to this aspect of the Bill. At the beginning, it is worth saying that my party supports the proposals in the Bill for a treatment allowance. That came out clearly in the evidence sessions, but I say it again for avoidance of doubt because the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform has recently stated the opposite by rather mischievously taking a very short quotation from the former shadow Secretary of State and missing out important words that completely changed the meaning of the sentence.

I am making my remarks by way of ensuring that the proposals are properly questioned. Also, I want them to be successful, but I have some doubts, which are based on feedback about whether they will work from sensible practitioners in this area from whom we did not hear during the evidence sessions.

Claimants who are dependent on drugs are a real problem. The Minister highlighted a real issue, and I know from my own constituents, from people I have spoken to throughout the country and from the clear reaction of members on both sides of the Committee when we were listening to some of the evidence that it is an issue for all Members. For some, it is a problem in their constituencies.

The first thing that is worth discussing is treatment capacity, which came up a great deal during the evidence session. This is one of the areas that I want Ministers to clarify. When the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform was asked about it, we were talking about the number of problem drug users who were on benefits. The number that was floating around was 240,000. A concern was expressed about whether the capacity would be available if a significant number of those people were captured by the proposals and referred to drug treatment services. I think that I am accurately paraphrasing the Minister by saying that he pointed out that, in the initial stages, the focus would be on only heroin and crack users, because that was where the biggest problem was, so the whole drug problem would not be tackled.

However, if we consider the numbers concerned, there are approximately 330,000 problem drug users in England—they are the heroin or crack addicts. Two thirds of them are on benefits, but only half of those on benefits are accessing drug treatment. It seems that even if the Department focuses on the heroin and crack addicts who the Minister states are the priority, there are 267,000 problem drug users. Even if a relatively small percentage of those were to be dealt with each year, that would represent a significant increase in the number of users accessing drug treatment. I am not convinced that there will be the capacity to provide that treatment. There would be nothing worse than using the powers in the Bill to persuade or cajole benefit claimants to access treatment only to find that that treatment was not available. That would not help anyone at all.

The Minister rubbished it somewhat, but the evidence provided to the Committee by DrugScope about a response that it received from the Department of Health suggested that an increase in drug users referred through this process could be dealt with only by accelerating them in the queue ahead of those who had come to drug treatment voluntarily. The Minister needs to clarify that because that would not be satisfactory. It would not be helpful if those who had come forward for drug  treatment of their own volition were moved down the queue so that people who were there because of a threat of sanction could be dealt with. The Minister needs to tackle the question of how many problem drug users he expects this process to deal with—the Department must have made an estimate—and what impact that will have on the available treatment services in England. In a moment, I will deal with some examples from Wales, where there are specific issues about the length of time that users have to wait to access treatment services. There was some discussion at the evidence session about the extent to which the Department is engaging with the Scottish and Welsh Assembly Governments to ensure that such services are available.

Another issue is the extent to which Jobcentre Plus advisers are the right people to be involved in this process. That partly concerns their skills and the training that they will have, but it also concerns the nature of the organisations that are best placed to engage with problem drug users.

I have received feedback from Turning Point, which runs a programme in Wales that helps some of these problem drug users to get back into work. The information that they gave to the Government’s consultation was that because Jobcentre Plus is a statutory body that handles the day-to-day delivery of benefits, in the minds of claimants, the disclosure of personal information such as the use of problem drugs to a Jobcentre Plus adviser would be implicitly linked to whether or not they got those benefits.

From the experience of Turning Point, a non-statutory body would engage with those users more successfully. For users who were parents, concerns would be linked not only with getting their benefits, but with whether a disclosure of problem drug use might lead to such a thing as their children being removed by social services. It believed that the likelihood of people making a disclosure to an independent adviser would be much greater than that happening to a statutory body responsible for benefit payments. Its experience from its progress2work operations was that its workers were referring people who were not previously known to treatment providers or known to be problem drug users. When the Minister thinks about how this programme will be implemented, it will be worth bearing in mind the extent to which Jobcentre Plus advisers would be engaged in it, or whether a significant proportion of this work could be more effective if it was delivered by a third party.

There are also some concerns about data protection. The clause contains proposals for information sharing between Jobcentre Plus and law enforcement agencies. Although the Bill contains safeguards to protect individuals from criminal liability as a result of the disclosures they make, there are still concerns about how that information is secured and transferred. The Minister will be aware, both from his previous roles and in his current one, about the importance of data security. It would be helpful if he covered some of those issues in his response.

The other matter that we touched on briefly in the evidence-taking session was exactly what the Minister means by “treatment”. I think that he said during that session that he was clear that the objective of treatment was to get someone off their drug habit, as opposed to just managing it. I ask about that because there are two  issues involved. In the national treatment programme, a significant number of people—about 50 per cent.—appear to be having their drug addiction managed, as opposed to their getting off drugs. That may be a success from a criminal justice perspective—if they are on a programme where they are receiving a methadone prescription, that may deal with their need to commit crimes to fund that habit—but if they remain addicted to methadone, although that is less problematic than taking heroin, it does not mean that they are in a good, stable situation allowing them to get to get work or remain in work. I should like some understanding of the objective of the treatment that the claimant would be expected to undertake; is the objective to get those people off their drug habit, albeit recognising that that may take some time, or is it simply to manage that habit in the long term?

I have already mentioned the resources issues. We will see if the Minister can outline some of those. I should particularly like to understand what the Department thinks the likely outcome of this part of the Bill will be, including estimates of how many people will be referred to a provider in first few years and how well the programme will work.

Specifically, picking up the issue I mentioned in respect of Wales, I have data from Cardiff, which is effective as of this month, showing that the next person on the waiting list for a methadone prescription from the community addiction unit in the Vale of Glamorgan, for example, has been on the list since March 2008. That person has been waiting nearly a year for drug treatment. More than 500 people are on the waiting list in Cardiff. There is a fast-track system, but at the moment that is only for pregnant women. Conversely, the drug intervention programme has no waiting list, but all prospective clients must have been involved in the criminal justice system. There is clearly a resource issue there. Those involved in the criminal justice system can get treatment immediately, as it right and proper, but those who are not involved in the criminal justice system appear to be waiting for a significant period. Clearly, even if the Minister is comfortable about how this scheme will work in England, there are issues in the devolved parts of the UK that Ministers need to take into account when rolling it out.

I have covered the issues that I wanted to raise. We are supportive of the proposals. I am not challenging the nature of the proposals but I want to ensure that the Minister has thought through the details and the implementation and that they are as successful as we all wish them to be.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister 5:30 pm, 24th February 2009

We have great concerns about this clause, which grants the Secretary of State sweeping powers that will be reinforced by regulation, but does not prescribe the limits of some of those powers. Schedule 3 mentions some of the powers that are granted. In particular, paragraph 5(1) deals with where information may be obtained from. It grants Jobcentre Plus staff with the power to obtain information held by

“a police force...the probation service, or...any other such person as may be prescribed.”

We do not have in this country a statute of limitations stating what responsibilities and rights people have, but we are granting the Secretary of State sweeping powers to obtain information about someone’s health and wellbeing. Returning to the point that I made this morning, that seems to run counter to the NHS constitution  under which the treatment that someone receives is fundamentally for them to decide and may be offered by the NHS.

Paragraph 2 of schedule 3 refers to “a substance-relate assessment” and specifies in great detail how that might proceed. Our view is that there is a much better way of doing that and that such detailed regulation is better dealt with in a health Bill rather than a benefits Bill. The two may be related, but I would be more confident if civil servants in the Department of Health specified who might be a suitable person than if a regulation drafted by the Department for Work and Pensions did so.

Insufficient thought seems to have been given to how the provision will work. The Minister said that there will be pilots and that the matter will be prioritised, but what discussion has taken place with colleagues in the Department of Health to decide how it will be implemented? In our view, the worst outcome would be that people who are already on the waiting list for treatment and are not receiving benefits or who are receiving benefits but are not in a targeted group will be moved down the list to accommodate someone whom the Bill determines should receive priority. That is iniquitous, and not the right way of going about the matter. During the evidence sessions, reference was made to voluntary schemes and a proper assessment of them. Why have we not had a proper assessment of what is already working and how it can be extended?

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean mentioned Wales. Services throughout England vary from region to region, and different health authorities have different levels of provision. What guarantee is there and what discussions has the Minister had with the Department of Health to ensure that if a policy is imposed on, for example, the north-west or the south-west, the resources will be available to implement it and that it will work?

We are concerned about this aspect of the Bill, and how it will work in practice, including civil liberties and the amount of information that can be obtained from various sources, but which may not be necessary to enable JCP staff to undertake the job with which they have been charged. It seems to us that that would be better dealt with elsewhere than in the Bill.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Opposition Whip (Commons)

I would like to raise a few concerns about the clause. On the face of it, the proposal is attractive, because it is not a welcome thought that our taxes and welfare system are subsidising a life of addiction and perhaps even crime. However, serious questions must be asked, and I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean about whether the capacity is in place to support the proposals, and whether such an approach in itself will be ultimately successful.

On capacity, we heard from our evidence sessions that more than 200,000 drug addicts are currently in treatment, and the capacity just about keeps pace with that demand. These figures are easy to bandy around, so I shall ask the Minister to clarify them if not now then later. We also heard, however, that about 100,000 addicts currently draw benefits but are not in treatment. It is difficult to believe that the existing services will cope with such a big increase in demand without a big increase in resources. When the chief executive of  DrugScope was questioned, he clearly made the point that it would be “extremely difficult” for the system to cope with any extra demand without an increase in resources. What estimate has the Minister or his Department made of how many extra drug addicts will require treatment as a result of the proposals? What will be the cost of that extra provision? And, where will the resources come from? I do not see any additional resources tagged on to the Bill. I am sure that the Minister is fully aware that it is all right putting such proposals in place, but that, if we do not create the capacity to deal with the envisaged increase in demand, the proposals will be almost worthless.

On the question of whether the general approach will be successful, all the evidence suggests that addicts will make progress with treatment only once they have resolved in their own mind to do so. Some addicts persist with their habit, despite it costing them their job, health, home or even their partner and their children, and despite the pain that that subsequently causes. The question that we as a Committee must ask ourselves is, are those people seriously going to take advice from, or respond to, a nice lady—[Interruption]—or gentleman sitting behind a jobcentre desk asking them to go for treatment? I have met many nice people in jobcentre offices, and they can be very tenacious, determined and gritty while being compassionate. However, they have only certain powers of persuasion, and when addicts have caused so much pain to themselves and, perhaps, others, and gone to such lengths to pursue their habit, one must question whether the policy will succeed. Indeed, the chief executive of DrugScope has said:

“There is no evidence that using benefit sanctions to compel problem drug users into treatment will be effective. Withdrawing benefits could perversely drive some people further away from the support they need, potentially impacting upon their families and wider communities”.

I suggest to the Minister that if people are forced into treatment that proves wholly ineffective, it at best wastes valuable time and resources and, at worst, delays the moment when they finally get serious about giving up or about re-entering work. Perhaps worse than that, such an approach risks diverting scarce and valuable resources from those who are more serious about giving up their habit. What evidence does the Minister have to suggest otherwise—that using benefit sanctions to force addicts into treatment will be effective? And, what measures will he put in place to ensure that resources are not diverted from where they are most needed and from people who genuinely want to give up their habit? I look forward to hearing his responses to those questions.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East 5:45 pm, 24th February 2009

I have a lot of sympathy with a number of concerns that have been mentioned already. I will make a few points.

Do we have clear definitions of some of the terminology used in the Bill? One such term is “propensity to misuse”. How many people clearly have that propensity? How many do not? How many would be in a grey area? Even the word “dependent” needs to be defined. Most of us would probably feel that we could tell whether somebody was dependent on drugs or alcohol, but my understanding is that when scientific tests are taken on somebody, all they can tell is whether a drug is present in that person’s body, not whether they are a regular user. There may be other ways of doing that.

Can the Minister assure us that he will be working with the Scottish Government, within our national drugs strategy? That has changed in recent years from managing, as has already been mentioned, and just giving people methadone with or without support, and now includes tackling the drug problem that many people have. In Glasgow, and in other parts of Scotland, there is a real drug problem. None of us is running away from that or pretending that that is not the case.

There is an idea that, if savings are made through benefit reductions, those funds can go through back into the Scottish budget to give more support to drug users. This point has already been made but it is worth emphasising: many people on drugs are in need of help more than anything else. Many of them probably greatly regret that they are on drugs, but they need the motivation to come off. If they do not have that motivation, I am not convinced that a lot of sanctions are really going to help. Even if they do want to come off, DrugScope told us that we are talking seven or eight years for somebody to come off heroin, which is a serious length of time.

Finally, what happens to the children in families headed by drug addicts? I asked that question to Barnardo’s in the earlier Committee meeting and its chief executive seemed somewhat stumped by it. But we are also committed to tackling child poverty. How do we tie these in? If the family income reduces, does that mean that the children suffer? And where, in practical terms, does the family end up? Do they go on to steal? Are they dependent on their grandparents, who, on limited means, help in supporting the kids? Or does it just mean that the kids eat less?

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

It is a pleasure to serve under you this afternoon, Mr. Hood.

I welcome this debate. It is clearly on a very serious issue which affects many of our constituencies, particularly for the three members of the Committee who represent Glasgow seats, where we are all well aware of the damage that it causes. The debate is on the basis that we want to set up a new contract, between applicants on one side and the Government on the other, about where the responsibilities lie. The aim is to provide a more tailored package which adequately deals with the needs of people who suffer from drug misuse. Such people are moved much further away from the job market as a result of their drug misuse, which permanently affects their lifestyle. Against that background, we have decided that it is important that we first of all focus on those who have the most chaotic lifestyles. That is why we will initially target those using heroin and crack cocaine, because that is the group which causes the most harm to themselves, their families and society.

Every year the use of class A drugs costs society £18 billion in health and crime costs alone. Ninety-nine per cent. of that is caused by problem drug use. So it is appropriate that we target this group first, because it is the group with the most propensity to harm. But as a number of Members said this afternoon, it is also important that we carry out this pilot first and then roll out the service in a way that allows our health services to have the appropriate capacity to cope.

There have been record levels of investment in treatment for drug misuse in England, which has led to a large expansion in capacity and dramatic reductions in waiting  times. Ninety-three per cent. of drug users are receiving treatment within three weeks of being assessed. The Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions have looked closely at likely numbers being referred into treatment from jobcentres, and we do not believe that capacity will be an issue, although we will monitor this very closely. We will have local drug jobcentre co-ordinators funded by the Department of Health and in post by spring this year. We will be keeping an eye on any potential pinch points and drawing those to the attention of the local drugs partnership.

The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse will be monitoring data on waiting times and the provisions of the Bill will be piloted, so that should problems with implementation occur pilots can be terminated, or the system delayed in rolling out countrywide, until these issues are resolved.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean mentioned the issue of queue jumping. I can assure him that there is no question of benefit claimants queue jumping into treatment. If, on occasion, more people need a particular type of treatment than there are current places, it would be the job of the local drugs partnership to make decisions on the basis of clinical need, not the route to referral. We are quite clear about that.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Opposition Whip (Commons)

I was interested to hear the hon. Lady’s comments about pinch points. Given the numbers involved and the estimates that came out of the evidence sessions, there could be up to 100,000 extra addicts looking for treatment. What happens if these pinch points do occur? What action will the Government take to resolve the situation? What measures will be in place to ensure that pinch points do not result in long delays?

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

It is important that we work on a local basis, where we can consider the local capacity of drug services in the area. That is why we want the staff of the DWP and the Department of Health to work very closely together—if the pinch point is in England—to ensure that, if there is a pinch point, the appropriate steps are taken within jobcentres to make referrals out into the health service. We want to ensure that we do not end up in the position where there would be any significant increase in waiting times for treatment for any person who has come through the jobcentre route or any other clinician route. That is why it is important that there is a degree of local control and management rather than an entirely centralised system. That is why we will be appointing co-ordinators to deal with that.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Opposition Whip (Commons)

If the hon. Lady cannot answer this question now, then she could perhaps come back later, but it is no good saying that pinch points will be monitored locally and their effect can be minimised. If we are talking about getting anywhere near the figures suggested in the evidence sessions, we are not talking about pinch points; we are talking about, perhaps, an overloading of the system, at least in certain areas. What specific measures will the Government take to ensure that they can cope with that? I am talking about possible additional resources being required here, because we heard in the evidence sessions that existing capacity is only just keeping up with demand, before this extra demand—we think—comes into play. What extra resources will the Government commit to this to ensure that this does not become a major issue?

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

The position in England is a very healthy one: the average wait for referrals is three weeks. For those of us in Scotland, we are waiting for up to 52 weeks; we would love to be anywhere close to what there is in England. There has certainly been no lack of commitment by this Government in putting resources into drug treatment here in England.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important question, however; it is the very reason why we are going to pilot this over a two-year period, and why we will report back to Parliament on any successes or problems that may occur. It is also why we have included a sunset clause in these provisions—so that Parliament will have another opportunity to consider the terms of the pilot and whether it has been a success. This gives a degree of reassurance that, as a Government, we will have to meet the demand, but we also have to make sure that we roll out the demand in a way that is manageable—not only on a national scale but also in terms of local health services. We are very keen to ensure that that is the case.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The Minister said that the pilots in England would run over a two-year period. When the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform was pressed on this in the evidence session, he said it would take that length of time to get the provision of treatment services in Wales and Scotland to a point at which a pilot in those two parts of the United Kingdom was a meaningful prospect.

Mr. McNultyindicated dissent.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The Minister is shaking his head, but in the third sitting he said that

“there has been discussion with both Scotland and Wales. We think that it is right to pilot throughout the UK, rather than just in England”.

He then went on to say that

“clearly we do not want to pilot in a situation where there are substantial waiting lists for treatment. We need to work with colleagues over the next couple of years to get to a stage at which a pilot in a Welsh or Scottish context will have some meaning and the provision of treatment will be there.”——[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee, 12 February 2009; c. 87, Q155.]

It sounds as though we will be running pilots over the next two years in England. Given what I said about the waiting lists in Wales and what the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and colleagues on both sides have said about the position in Scotland, a significant period of time will probably have to elapse before it is possible to run pilots in Scotland and Wales. That may be sensible, but it would be helpful to know if that is what the Department is currently planning.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I was about to turn to the issue of the roll-out of this programme in the devolved Administrations.

We are working very closely with the devolved Administration in Wales. We appreciate that they have issues of capacity, and as in England we do not want to burden health services in a way that causes additional stress. We are still hopeful that we will be in a position at some stage—not initially, but at a later stage—to introduce the programme in Wales.

We also continue to have discussions with the Scottish Government regarding their proposals. We were initially advised that they had severe problems of capacity. They then raised objections regarding what they say is unethical, but I will come to that later when I deal with the  comments made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, East. At the present time, it is clear that they do not have capacity. They do not have an anti-drugs strategy. We do not have a time scale for when they might reduce the waiting times and we do not know what percentage of extra people would be needed to assist. Therefore, we have a problem with that particular point.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

Is it not the case that the Scottish Government have indicated that they hope to have much improved times within two years?

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

That might well be the case. I understand that the Scottish Government initially promised a 20 per cent. increase in their manifesto. According to their justice budget, their spending is only up 14 per cent. However, if we look at the number more closely, the apparent increase is only 1.9 per cent average in real terms over the next three years. They have also failed to set up the drugs commission, which they promised. There is no target in their strategy for increasing the number of people receiving drug misuse treatment, they have dropped the previous Administration’s target of increasing the numbers in treatment by 10 per cent. and there is no target for waiting times. Unfortunately, the story there is not very positive, but we continue to work with the Scottish Government. We are surprised that they now want us to wait until the pilots have been carried out in England because they are not slow to point out that there are always differences with the devolved Administrations, which is the very reason why we want the pilots—so that we can test the provisions against the different provisions and services that are available in Scotland. I hope that they will use the opportunity to reconsider that because it would be very much in the interests of their own constituents.

Let me return to the comments made by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean. He mentioned the issue of the jobcentre staff and the type of training with which they would be engaged. The role of the personal adviser will be to judge whether there are reasonable grounds for believing a person is a problem drug user. We will be issuing guidance to staff on how to assess whether there are such reasonable grounds. We are certainly not expecting them to make any medical judgments; that must be left to specialists and will be dealt with through our contacts with the NHS. Staff will be provided with guidance on how to spot the possible signs and behaviours linked with drug misuse and it will be drawn up in conjunction with the NTA. The new Jobcentre Plus drugs co-ordinators will also have a role in raising awareness among all staff about drug misuse, including the difficulties faced by drug users in dealing with the requirements of the benefit system. Sadly, Jobcentre Plus staff are not unused to dealing with drug misusers, so they already have knowledge of that particular client group, but we want to ensure that they work closely with the Department of Health regarding awareness.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned data protection. Any provisions regarding the sharing of information will be subject to the Human Rights Act 1998 and data protection legislation. He also asked about treatment and what it involves. Treatment will be medically determined by specialists and will be part of the rehabilitation plan, but will not be the only part of it, because we are  looking at giving advice on soft skills, debt, housing and skills training, all of which might form part of the rehabilitation package. We will not force people to take invasive treatments, and their consent will be required for such treatments. If methadone is prescribed as a potential treatment for their condition, their consent will be required in relation to the standard conditions of the NHS charter.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 6:00 pm, 24th February 2009

When he gave evidence to the Committee, the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform made it clear that the priority, in the pilots, were heroin and crack cocaine users, of whom approximately 240,000 are on benefits. Does the Department have any idea, from its research and evidence, of the kind of treatment required to get someone to a position where their problem drug use is no longer a barrier to work? The point that I am driving at is one that I alluded to earlier: does the evidence suggest that, for most heroin or crack cocaine users, the barrier to working will be substantially reduced when they use a substitute such as methadone, or do they have to be completely off drugs to work? That is not clear to me, and I wonder whether the Department has a view on that.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

We appreciate that coming out of drug use can take a long time. Our aim with rehabilitation plans is to stabilise people’s condition so that they are sufficiently able to engage with labour market activity. That might mean that they are still on methadone, or are coming off it gradually, because it can take some time to come off. We will work closely with employers, through local employment partnerships, to find job opportunities and give guaranteed interviews and work placements to people who have gone through that kind of rehabilitation plan, so that there will be an outcome for them at the end of the day. People will not necessarily be totally off drugs when they re-enter the standard JSA regime.

The hon. Member for Rochdale was concerned about sharing information with the police force and probation service. Those details are still being discussed with our colleagues in the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, but the regulations will provide for information sharing that is proportionate to our aims. Many people who suffer from heroin and cocaine use will have been through the criminal justice and prison systems, and might already be in a rehabilitation programme as part of their probation programme. It is important that we have relevant and correct information from the criminal justice system to ensure that we are co-ordinated and are aware of what is happening under both the DWP and criminal justice systems.

Information from the probation service will include details of individuals who are subject to rehabilitation requirements as part of a community sentence. Such people will already be receiving drug treatment, and we will want to ensure that they are included in the programme. Information from the police is likely to include details of people who have tested positive for drug use when arrested, have been charged with offences or have been referred for a required assessment. Information from prisons will include details of people who have recently left prison. The regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure, so Parliament will have the opportunity to consider and approve regulations before they are put in place.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

On prisons, may I make a helpful point? This issue came up when I visited the progress2work operation run by Turning Point in Cardiff. Rather than simply have information about people who have recently left prison, it might help if the Department got that information in advance. One thing that has come through very clearly to me is that if there is no arrangement in place for someone’s housing and work situation as they are leaving prison, but preferably before they leave, and if they go back to where they used to live, they end up associating with the same people and quickly getting back on to drugs. That not only spoils their employment opportunities but, if they have been off drugs in prison, it can lead to their dying or becoming seriously ill. Notwithstanding concerns about information sharing, it would be better to have information from prisons before or as soon as those people leave. That would join them up with this type of programme so that they do not fall through that gap.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman raises an excellent point. It is important that people coming out of prison—particularly after a substantial period and if they have already been in a drugs programme—do not start to take the drugs available on the street, or they could be in risk of their lives. It is important that we have a system that manages to catch people so that they do not fall into holes. We need co-ordination between prison and probation services, health services, and housing agencies in terms of debt advice, because one or two issues in that package can mean the difference between someone managing to cope and someone falling through.

In terms of drug treatment, the figures show that 83 per cent. of those in treatment are recorded receiving effective treatment that has a long-term positive impact. In addition, 93 per cent. of those assessed as requiring drug treatment are able to access it within three weeks. That is critical because the scientific evidence is clear that putting people into treatment is the best possible way out of drug misuse.

The hon. Member for Rochdale involved himself in an argument that I found difficult to follow about why, if we put a piece of legislation into a health Bill, it would be different in essence—although the terminology might be the same—from one that we put into a Bill on welfare reform. He creates artificial barriers, which we are trying to take down. When someone leaves prison or hospital after taking a drug overdose, they do not necessarily distinguish between a health Bill and a welfare reform Bill; they need help, and that is what the Bill intends to provide. It is not about a punitive regime: it is about a regime that takes people off JSA standard conditions and puts them on to a treatment programme that is far more appropriate for the condition in which they are in. I hope the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, East mentioned the question of working with the Scottish Government. I have said that we are more than happy to work constructively with them. I bring to his attention one scheme on which we could agree. That was mentioned in yesterday’s Heraldand it suggests that the Scottish Government have used the example that we are trying to use, but in the criminal justice system; it is called the persistent offenders programme.

A study into the first year of that programme found that serial offending by people involved in shoplifting, housebreaking and prostitution was cut by almost  30 per cent. in four of Glasgow’s police divisions. The programme staff identify the most prolific offenders, door-knock them and give them the choice of signing up for drugs and alcohol rehabilitation or being targeted by officers. Sergeant Andy Brown of Strathclyde police said:

“We then monitor how well people are doing. It is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s about getting people at the right time—in that wee window when they’re ready to accept help.”

One of the applicants on the scheme said:

“Within half an hour they had sorted me out with a methadone programme and I got a worker who would come out to see me every week.”

I think members of the Committee may be somewhat perplexed that if someone has a continuous criminal record and is a drug misuser, that person has an entitlement to instant treatment. However, if someone has the misfortune of being a drug user but does not have a serial criminal record in Scotland, that person might wait up to 52 weeks for treatment care.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow North West

When my hon. Friend next talks with her counterparts north of the border, could they look at the case she has mentioned and see if we can roll it out as another trial in England? It sounds excellent, and in a city like Glasgow we need all the help we can get.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that I am happy to speak to the Scottish Government at any point about this particular scheme. I very much welcome that pragmatic, sensible and caring approach. That is exactly what we are trying to replicate in the welfare reform system.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

I also read the article as I came down on the train yesterday. I think it highlights this balance between compulsion and encouragement; would the hon. Lady agree? It does seem from the words she read out that there was very much an element of choice and an element of people wanting to go into these things. That is very much the emphasis. I am a wee bit disappointed by her tone; it seems combative with the Scottish Government. Would it be possible, while not throwing away the principles that the UK Government hold, that there might be a willingness to tweak things a bit in order to get on with the Scottish Government?

Finally, does the hon. Lady also agree that the point is made that people have been taken off crime—I am sure we would all agree that this is a good thing—but the danger of cutting benefits for such drug users is that we end up pushing people back into crime?

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman’s experience of police is in Glasgow, but when you get a knock at the door saying you are going to be targeted or else you will enter the rehabilitation programme, I would say that it is a strong stick, and fairly stark. However, it is clearly one that has worked.

It is only fair that there is another avenue of opportunity—not only when people come out of prison or are facing another charge, but when they present themselves at the Jobcentre Plus office and are clearly  having problems with drug misuse. Because it is a contract between citizen and state—no one forces anyone to apply for the benefit, but those who do apply have to take responsibilities—we try to offer people individual support and a treatment plan that is appropriate to their needs. Actually, scientific evidence shows that this is the best possible way to get people off the drugs, out of a life of crime and into a situation where they can properly support their family and children. If a person’s life is so chaotic that they cannot even sign on to a rehabilitation programme, it prompts the question whether they are the appropriate person to look after children. Incidentally, our experience also shows that people who have a chaotic lifestyle are not able to cope with the standard JSA regime, and very often can come off the rails. That is why we want to offer them a better deal.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

I thank the Minster for generously giving way again. Would she agree with me—I am trying not to be too party political—that the whole question of where the children stay is incredibly difficult? We do not have a lot of success in Glasgow—I stand to be corrected elsewhere—with the council putting people into children’s homes or short fostering care and so on. We should be reluctant to take children away from their parents.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I entirely agree. That is why we need to encourage people to go on to rehabilitation plans and to take treatment, because it is the best way to help them and their families.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.