The following is from Mark Gawthorpe | @no_recoverycuts
Please also support Mark’s petition by clicking – Stop the threatened cut of £1m from the budgets of local Drug and Alcohol Services.
Supporting Services for Recovery: Campaign Manifesto
Who would regard ex-criminals or people recovering from drug and alcohol problems as having a fundamental and essential value to our society? Who would, taking the matter even further, consider these people to have, due to the precise nature of their experiences, a clarity of understanding and insight that can, in the right circumstances, offer solutions and practical life changing help and guidance to the most alienated and troubled members of our society?
I am alive, sober and sane today because of my engagement with a peer-led Recovery community.
I, along with many others, found that the people with the ability to climb into the psyche with empathy and imagination and offer life changing help and guidance were the very people who best fit the above description. Those people often most vilified and rejected, those people who still often choose anonymity because of a general lack of compassion and understanding in our troubled and confused society, are among the best placed people to challenge both the social causes and provide the most creative and practical methods of prevention and guidance to our most blighted and alienated communities. These are the people who need to be at the forefront of vibrant Recovery communities, both in terms of helping to tackle addiction issues on the front line of treatment projects and, more broadly, to offer new and challenging methods of engaging disadvantaged communities from the inside and bringing these people together to face, with a new and unified strength of vision, the various issues that in many cases plague them the most severely.
Alienation, poverty, mental health problems and very little support when the slippery slope suddenly starts to steepen. These are the prerequisites for a perfect storm of individual and social disaster, and left unchallenged these are among the primary factors leading to increases in low to mid-level crime and often to substance misuse, insanity or death.
• 1,200,000 people are affected by drug addiction in their families mostly in poor communities. (1)
• 70% of people in drug treatment and 86% of people in alcohol treatment have mental health problems. (2)
Is this a plea for compassion?
Unquestionably it is. The fact nonetheless remains that for even the most unsympathetic members of society who find it difficult to have even a slither of empathy for people who have spiralled into a life of addiction, crime and frequent imprisonment; that the savings in financial terms to society as a whole, and the emotional savings to the countless victims of our troubled behaviour is so clearly undeniable that a hard nosed pragmatic response to this problem falls firmly into the aims and objectives of our vision.
• Annual cost to society of £15,400,000,000. Annual cost of crime £13.9bn. The cost per year, due to the crime toll of the average addict £26,074. (3)
• Annual cost to NHS due to substance misuse £488m. (4)
• Drug treatment prevents 4.9m crimes per year, saving £960,000,000. (5)
• Drug treatment could cut 95,000 offences in a big city. (6)
The Grand Vision
We need peer-led Recovery services in every town and city in our country. These services need to offer the full gambit of effective and progressive support that has a proven track record of engagement and success.
Abstinence programmes work for many, but it would be a mistake to assume that non-professional organisations that require little to no funding is a correct model for the majority; complex mental health and social issues require fully funded and comprehensive professional input into a diverse and holistic delivery model.
Abstinence based 12 step meetings and support groups such as SMART, should be included under the roof of a diverse service delivery model catering for the full scope of needs, including mental health support, for those engaging in Recovery treatment; however unqualified and untrained self help volunteer programmes should never replace, or be seen as a cheaper option, for the diversity, insight and imagination of a scientifically evidence based treatment delivery system.
Non-professional, and non-veted volunteers with a year or two of sobriety, or abstinence time, should be the empowered representatives of a democratically peer-led community, not a ‘budget’ replacement for trained staff and fully funded service delivery provisions.
Drug and Recovery systems in England may have prevented up to 4.9m crimes in 2010-11, with an estimated saving to society of £960m in costs to the public, businesses, the Criminal Justice System and NHS. And a further estimated reduction of up to 19.6m crimes for the period 2011-12 and 2014-15 with an estimated saving to society of over £3.6bn, was projected by the NHS during the 2010 spending review. (7)
The peer-led service that I engaged with personally included a Gym, run in a professional manner by fully trained staff who themselves were in recovery; a cafe which was run by staff and service user volunteers, all in recovery. The service had a peer-mentor drop in room, with tea and coffee provisions, internet stations and a telephone; where service-users could chat and get support from the very people who had been through the same life experiences as themselves.
This argument is, therefore, regarding the championing of a workable delivery model, it is not our intention to promote any particular provider, current or potential, only to promote the kind of treatment service that works best, with peer-led initiatives at its core.
The role of the professional should not be overlooked or underestimated. One to one key worker support from a trained treatment professional is of invaluable assistance to those new in treatment and needing guidance and assistance through the often rocky road of their personal recovery journey. Many treatment workers, including our own front line workers at Widening Horizons and the dedicated staff at CJDT (Criminal Justice Drugs Team), who themselves face funding problems and potential budget cuts, are people of great skill, people of vision and dedication. The model works best when there is a healthy symbiosis of professionals and peers involved at all levels of service organisation and delivery, including democratic peer-representation at all levels up to and including the various organisational boards. The fact nonetheless remains that increased levels of peer support and control (including initiatives to train peers to become the professional staff that are needed) are the necessary dynamics to build an attractive and effective treatment service that produces life changing results.
I eventually maintained a stable recovery from chronic alcohol abuse from engaging with these people. I was lucky enough to avoid prison, but my behaviour was becoming so unstable that eventual incarceration was becoming a real danger, and the support, insight and advice that I received from ex-prisoners undoubtedly had a positive impact on my decisions to change that behaviour, proving that the contributions and experiences of both ex-prisoners, recovering alcoholics and drug users, twinned with the invaluable input of qualified professionals offering the full spectrum of recovery options to fit the complex requirements of the individual, can be an extremely cost effective asset if these people are trained and employed as a part of a fully funded, progressive and professionally run treatment service.
Here in Leicester
70-80% of crime in Leicester is low level, and the majority of low level crime is drug and alcohol related. Statistics from a group of offenders during 2011 in Leicester showed that after appropriate intervention their offending fell by 44% and the cost of their offending fell by 48%. (8)
Our campaign has a three pronged tactic:
1. To push for improvements in local services by promoting peer empowerment and peer-led initiatives. We are the people who can build and promote Recovery and the local services that cater for these needs. It is our view that a change in management vision, after the change of provider during the last tendering process, failed to continue with the peer-led model, leading to a reduction in the number of service users engaging with Widening Horizons and a feeling of loss and indifference to the service now on offer from many who had engaged with the previous service model.
This aspect of tendering and bid culture can, therefore, be very damaging to the continued effectiveness of both the service quality as a whole, and have catastrophic consequences on the individual stability of those starting out on a precarious and difficult path of abstinence within that service itself.
This problem becomes a double edged threat in our current climate of cuts and increasing levels of austerity. Local Councils are under increased pressure to cut budgets and provide more cost effective means of providing services to the communities whose continued wellbeing, and in many cases their very lives, are fundamentally reliant upon.
The potential pressures to give Recovery service contracts to the lowest bidder, would risk the continued effectiveness of local Recovery services, reductions in service user engagement numbers, and could risk, by a return to the worst excesses of privatisation, a net financial loss in the mid to long term by forcing Recovery communities to loose their cohesion by creating a fast track and visionless fast food model of Recovery that is catastrophic for vulnerable adults suffering from substance misuse problems, catastrophic for the families of those vulnerable adults engaging in treatment and catastrophic for the many victims of the inevitable increases in drug and alcohol fuelled crime, risking a financial loss in the long term for our cities, and indeed our society as a whole.
2. We wish to campaign against the potential threat of a £1 million cut to our funding budget. Reduced service user numbers could be used to provide an argument for a budget cut, however, it is our view that a lack of peer-led involvement is largely responsible for this reduction in engagement numbers and the adoption of a peer-led model has a proven track record of significant success. A cut to our budget would save the council money in the short term, but would lead to a massive financial loss, as previously mentioned, in the mid to long term by reducing the effectiveness of available Recovery treatment on a local level.
The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NHS) has estimated that for every 1m taken out of treatment budgets there will be an increase of approximately 9’860 drug related crimes per year, at an estimated cost to society of over £1.8m. (7)
3. We believe in building and supporting an expanded and progressive conceptual model of Recovery that transcends that of simply helping those struggling with substance misuse problems.
Disenfranchised and impoverished youth living on our council estates, often dealing with pre-existing social problems, tempted by high risk thrills and the ever tempting availability of cheap drugs, alcohol and dangerous legal highs, risk the precarious and slippery path of developing mental health difficulties, criminalisation, prison, general self destruction, substance misuse and death.
Many suffering from the effects of social alienation, poverty and mental health problems risk the temptations of self medicating to solve difficulties in the short term, at great personal and social risk in the long term.
Zero hour contracts, unemployment and benefit sanctions drive many of us to unbearable levels of suffering, and far too often to a deterioration in mental health stability, relapse, and, in an ever increasing number of cases to the unacceptable tragedy of suicide.
The complex problems that many of us in Recovery struggle with would fall into the category of disability, we should support others struggling with all forms of disability (physical and psychological) and show solidarity with them in their struggles and campaigns; a combined voice of unity and cooperation will strengthen us and improve our chances of educating the broader population to the struggles of our daily lives and increase our effectiveness as champions of progressive health and wellbeing initiatives.
Our broader communities are sick at heart and are themselves in need of a model of community Recovery. It is, indeed, here also that a peer-mentor initiative of support, lifted directly from the most effective peer-led Recovery services, can provide an in road into these communities and that a peer-led community empowerment dynamic can begin to challenge the worse excesses of social injustice and inequality, on a workable model with a proven track record, both financially and socially, of engagement and success.
The Campaign Team
In Dec 2014, at the AGM of Unite Community Leicester Branch, I raised the issues covered above and put forward for consideration the idea of the Union supporting this campaign locally, which was agreed by them. A public meeting was held at which an independent peer-led Steering Committee was elected and we have begun a fruitful negotiation with Management, where along with a petition we took service users from the team. Our voices are now being listened to, and taken seriously. Most importantly improvements are on the agenda, and our service user monthly meetings have become much more engaging and constructive. We have also played a key role in pushing for a service user forum, long overdue, which has now been created.
Six service users have also joined Unite Community, and interest is growing along with our numbers, although campaign involvement does not rely on anyone having to join the Union as a prerequisite, it is the 1.4 million organised workers of Unite the Union, and their links to community activists via their dynamic and visionary Community Membership initiative that has the potential to link the struggles of ordinary working people with those of the unemployed and gives a powerful voice to many previously disenfranchised members of society, who tragically often suffer in the worst conditions on the periferies of our society.
Just as importantly it gives us as peer-mentors and Recovery activists the chance to take our message, one of self respect vision and strength, to working people who will listen and are best placed to help us spread this message into locales, work places, and organisations that have the potential to take up our banner and challenge along with us many of societies misconceptions of who we are, what workable solutions are on offer, and what our real experiences in life have been.
Many Unionised workers live in the very communities most blighted by substance misuse problems. We are their friends spouses and children, their neighbours and coworkers.
The problem is a collective one, as are the solutions.
Unite Community are communicating with Leicester City Council to help organise a meeting between service users and the commissioning boards. We hope, as we did with service Management, to take our concerns and vision directly to them and push to have our Manifesto placed directly onto the next service provision requirements.
“Growth through Unity, Unity through Growth”
As well as Unite we now have the support of UKRW (UK Recovery Walk) and we are very proud to be able to display the logo of this amazing Recovery charity on our Manifesto.
We are also contacting mental health services, and other local and National organisations, to seek support and direct help for our campaign. We hope to see future drafts of this document co-badged by an increasing number of supportive bodies.
It is our feeling that rather than suffer the continued insecurities of re-tendering, which causes deadly disruptions to treatment, drug and alcohol services should be run democratically by service user members and fire walled from budget cuts and downsizing risks.
In conclusion we humbly request that all service users past and present, and all staff members who are proud trade unionists, support our campaign in whatever way they can. Key meetings will increase the chances of success by the participation of the very people who can now have their voices heard. Join in with the campaign team at Widening Horizons. We are also pushing to have meetings on site in the near future to make engaging with us simpler and more effective for people at all stages of their personal Recovery journey.
Mark Gawthorpe | @no_recoverycuts
Branch Secretary of Unite Community | Leicester