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How long before the return of the Workhouse?

February 11, 2009

column-picture2I wouldn’t go as far as to call our Labour MP a one-eyed Scottish idiot…

Obviously, he has still has both peepers, and will tell you for as long as you have the endurance to listen that he has an unparalleled Hastings pedigree.

But his recent spouting of the party line on the Government’s plan to remove the benefits of people with drug addictions who won’t attend rehab, is far from intelligent.

I am genuinely disappointed – with this, as well as his call for our Conservative counterpart to back the plans.

It is a flagrant and unsavoury attempt to out-Tory a Tory. It’s not big, and it’s not clever.

I had exchanged positive emails with both Michael and Amber over the last couple of weeks on substance misuse issues. They have both backed my call for a cross-party, multi-agency debate about the combination of services available to people with addiction problems across Hastings and Rother.

I had hoped that we might develop a mature and informed partnership. But it seems that we are by no means destined to agree about everything. And so I must tell you why the Work & Pensions Secretary’s current plan is nothing more than macho gesture politics. The reason is simple: it won’t work.

Let’s just think about the practicalities for a moment…

One of the first rules of thumb for successful substance misuse work is that lasting change occurs when someone has decided for themselves that they must act to curb their addiction.

This process is not going to be assisted by a crude compulsion such as the removal of benefits.

The second rule of thumb is that people with addiction problems can be crafty in the pursuit of their substance of choice.

So, as a ‘for example’, what would there be to stop someone agreeing to go to rehab and then calling their dealer the minute that they finish their residential programme on the Surrey-Hampshire borders?

What a waste of public money that would be.

And what about the user who doesn’t even see the potential loopholes in the scheme? They just can’t contemplate rehab at that particular point, but they also have a young family to support. What about those children? Is it fair that they be dragged into penury due to their parent’s actions?

What would be the cost to the state of this?

How long before Labour advocates the return of the Workhouse?

There is a sad but serious point to be found in the putting forward of this particular policy idea. It is that Labour has completely lost its focus on some of the key contexts of drug and alcohol addiction.

It has lost its focus on the connections between poverty, poor housing, poor mental health, poor educational and employment opportunities, poor self-esteem and substance misuse.

It is not disloyal to a community to say this – it is realistic.

What is needed is a major assault on these great social ills. We need a joined-up approach, which is why we need to talk, and engage different experts.

What we don’t need is posturing.

Labour has clearly failed to take the numerous chances that the electorate has given to make a fairer society.

And it will face the electoral consequences.

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