I agree with the hon. Gentleman; not for nothing is the UK labelled the drug-death capital of Europe. That should worry us across the UK.
The second theme that emerged from the reports is the real worry about the future of services after 2020 if the ring-fenced public health grant for local authorities ends and funding moves to general local authority funding. A report by the Select Committee on Health and Social Care showed that public health budgets have been cut every year since 2013, with alcohol and drug treatment services facing the biggest cuts. Councils have reduced spending on adult drug misuse by an average of 27% since 2015-16, and almost one in five local authorities have cut budgets by 50% or more since then.
The highest cuts have been disproportionately concentrated in areas with high rates of drug-related deaths, according to the Camurus report. More than half of the directors of public health surveyed believe that the removal of ring-fenced public health grants will result in further cuts. Service providers are struggling to maintain their current offer, and have even less capacity to make additional outreach efforts that are needed, such as offering proactive early prevention measures or engaging under-represented groups and communities who come less into contact with available services.
“I walk into many drug services around the country and it’s chaos. They’re being asked to do so much with so little resource. I’m not sure how many of them can even feasibly have it on their priority list to discuss hepatitis C with clients.”
Hepatitis C is a very harmful condition but it can be prevented and cured if we have the resources to do so.
This is another story of austerity hitting the services that are most needed by the most vulnerable in society, but—this is the third theme that emerges from the sector responses—it is also a story of false economies. Spending on the recovery and reintegration of people who struggle with drug and alcohol dependency is one of the smartest spend-to-save investments that a Government can make. Strong evidence suggests that properly funded drug treatment services help to drive reductions in drug deaths, crime, and rates of blood- borne viruses. Research that the Government themselves commissioned concluded that drug treatment can “substantially reduce” the social costs associated with drug misuse and dependence, with an estimated cost-benefit ratio of 2.5:1. Depending on the breadth of the definition of “social costs”, that ratio could be calculated far more favourably and take into account factors such as lower crime, fewer health problems, less benefit dependency, lower social services spending and so on. Public Health England estimates that for every £1 invested in drug treatment services, there is a £4 social return.
Drug treatment and harm reduction services are cost-effective and offer good value for money, so this is a classic example of funding reductions in one part of the public services leading to spending increases in another. To quote Ron Hogg, police and crime commissioner for Durham and Darlington, who in my view is one of our most progressive PCCs:
“As PCC, I have concerns regarding the future allocation of public health funding in Durham, via the Public Health Grant, and the knock-on effect for policing. I am fearful that I will face the triple whammy of a reduction in police funding, a further reduction due to changes in the funding formula, and the consequences of a decrease in public health funding. The consequences of these changes are likely to include a significant increase in crime in County Durham and Darlington.”
We know that half of acquisitive crime in the UK is directly related to drug dependency.