7 Oct 2008 : Column 1WH

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 7 October 2008

[Janet Anderson in the Chair]

Anti-Drug Awareness

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Watts.]

9.30 am

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): As part of Nottingham’s early intervention initiative, our city is leading the way on an anti-drug and alcohol education programme with a £750,000 programme, Drug Aware, that will reach every young person in our city. For about the cost of a year’s intensive treatment for a handful of addicts, we will effectively provide inoculation against drug and alcohol abuse for every child in Nottingham.

My challenge to the Minister is that it makes no sense to wait until kids turn into offenders and then use massive amounts of taxpayers’ money to fuel expensive and largely ineffective rehabilitation programmes. Late intervention does not work. We should pursue a policy of early intervention, filtering out much earlier those who might drift into abuse so that specialist rehab services can focus on a much smaller hard core. It would be remiss of me not to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his recent promotion. I am delighted that he has deferred it for a day to answer this debate. I know that the issue is close to his heart. He has been extremely helpful on both the ministerial and the personal level to the initiative that I wish to discuss.

History will judge harshly a Government who, after a decade, do not have a nationwide system of drug education in place as the first strong line of defence to protect the nation’s children. We are all aware of the effects that illicit drugs and alcohol can have on individuals, families and communities, and none of us is more so than the Minister, who helped Nottingham start its drug education journey when he was a humble junior Minister.

On health, alcohol-related deaths have doubled since 1979, and last year in Nottingham there were 4,000 alcohol- related attendances at accident and emergency departments. On crime, the Home Office states that up to three quarters of crack and heroin users claim that they commit crime to feed their habit. There are about 3,000 problem users in my city, and the city council estimates that drug-related crime costs the city more than £300 million a year. On the economy, the Prime Minister’s strategy unit estimates the annual cost of harms associated with alcohol misuse alone to be more than £15 billion, and the treatment charity Addaction found in a recently produced briefing report that the social and economic costs of drug misuse to the nation total more than £28 billion annually.

Such deep-rooted problems are not amenable to one-off campaigns, however well-meaning. They require decades of education to bring about cultural change. That is why it is everyone’s problem and every party’s issue. As I hope is shown in my recent publication, “Early Intervention”, co-authored with the right hon. Member
7 Oct 2008 : Column 2WH
for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), social and political consensus is vital. I welcome the Conservative and Liberal representatives as well as those of the Government to this debate.

Alcohol misuse and drug misuse have a particular impact on young people, as they are directly and indirectly associated with youth offending, higher levels of school exclusion and teenage pregnancies. In Nottingham, our definition of early intervention is intervention that helps break the intergenerational cycle. A drug and alcohol awareness programme classically meets that test. Children of problem drug users and drinkers experience more behavioural and emotional problems and are more likely to develop problems with drugs and alcohol themselves. Let us break that intergenerational cycle.

For that reason, Nottingham, particularly its local strategic partnership One Nottingham, which I have the privilege to chair, sees a comprehensive drug and alcohol filter as an early intervention priority. Our lead partnership is the crime and drugs partnership, but as the Minister has seen at first hand, all the other partnerships, especially the children’s partnership, have made it their problem too. The crime and drugs partnership, or CDP, has been highly successful in reducing crime in the city. Between 2003 and 2008, it exceeded Government targets—and, more importantly, our expectations—in reducing crime by 26 per cent. I pay tribute to Derek Stewart, the CDP’s chair, its chief executive Alan Given and their team for their superb work. They know more than anyone that our priority must be to move a step up towards education and early intervention if such figures are to continue being pressed down and not to plateau.

Although common sense tells us that prevention is better than cure, the idea often seems to baffle those at the national level. Saving 100 kids from going wrong is harder to measure and express in box ticks than putting one person into rehab. One chief constable in Nottinghamshire told me that when he defended a drug education programme, he was asked by the Home Office, “How many burglars does it catch?” There are those who have enormous and vocal vested interests in late intervention, with millions of pounds and lots of personnel to defend. They have populated local policy-making machines and those in Whitehall to such an extent that to break their stranglehold will require a Minister—perhaps a Minister of State—with unique determination, a quality that my hon. Friend possesses in abundance.

Drug treatment strategy and funding seem to be predicated on an unwavering supply of new entrants to the drug treatment system. Some 2,173 people underwent drug treatment last year in Nottingham. Perversely, we are congratulated on having more people in rehab. Surely the objective of a comprehensive and rounded policy should be “Fewer abusers, better treated”. The total cost to the Government of those in treatment in Nottingham is about £7 million a year. According to the Department of Health, treatment alone costs the UK £597 million a year nationally, yet the BBC reported last week that only 3 per cent. of addicts finish treatment drug-free. The strategy is to have fleets of gold-plated ambulances at the bottom of the cliff instead of a simple wooden fence at the top. I challenge the Minister to join me in rejecting that strategic approach. There are clear benefits, including massive financial savings, to filtering out most potential abuse early by providing
7 Oct 2008 : Column 3WH
volume education and prevention programmes, identifying young people at risk of problem drug use and targeting effective prevention work at them.

Evidence shows that balanced, accurate drug education can be a factor in countering peer group pressure or delaying the onset of casual drug use. Moralistic or scare approaches are likely to be ineffective, and the threat of criminal sanctions and jail simply does not prevent large numbers of young people from misusing drugs. However, most drug education in UK schools is patchy, confused and inconsistent. It comes under personal health and social education provision, which is neither a statutory subject nor a specialist area in initial teacher education. It may not matter in leafy suburbs, but in poorly parented areas such as my constituency, learning effective life skills at school, including anti-drug awareness, is an essential foundation for many who, sadly, do not get such education at home.

We seem to have a command economy for rehab but a laissez-faire approach to prevention. Whatever we do in Nottingham, only national Government can make it happen on the scale necessary to cut off the supply of those abusing drugs. It is crucial to provide good-quality drug education whose purpose is clearly understood and whose quality is measured locally and nationally through independent inspection. Accurate and effective information and guidance for young people are key to ensuring that they never try drugs in the first place. Higher Government standards relating to the quality and coverage of drug education are therefore also required.

Crucially, the importance of drug education must be part of a wider educational framework. It is impossible to inoculate young people against drug misuse with just a few hours of drug education. Drug education programmes can no more stand alone than can teenage pregnancy programmes, aspiration programmes to improve educational attainment or behavioural programmes. They must be one part of broader life skills education to raise social and emotional literacy, particularly among 11 to 16-year-olds, and to build on the excellent social and emotional aspects of learning programme—SEAL—in primary schools. That will require a Minister to take responsibility for much better joining up between the Home Office and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

One Nottingham’s mission is about early intervention. With our partnerships in health, children’s services and crime and drugs, we are implementing universal and targeted drug and alcohol education. That includes health promotion campaigns targeted at parents of young people to enable them to develop parental responsibility for their children’s drinking and drug abuse, early intervention to prevent the onset of youth drug misuse, and the healthy schools initiative. The majority of Nottingham schools have achieved full “healthy school” status and 76 per cent. have met the programme’s drugs and alcohol standard, which includes having drug education programmes embedded in the curriculum. Schools are also required to refer pupils requiring early intervention to the appropriate services. Last year 15 pupils were referred to treatment, and many more are now receiving targeted support.

The Drug Aware award will take our efforts to the next level, and in July One Nottingham agreed and awarded funding of £256,000 for each of the next three
7 Oct 2008 : Column 4WH
years. I believe that Drug Aware is the first of its kind in the UK, and is based on a theoretical model in the recent Government research programme, Blueprint, which looked at 23 secondary schools in the north-west and east midlands. Furthermore, the Government’s new 10-year drug strategy, “Drugs: Protecting Families and Communities”, sets the framework in which we will implement Drug Aware.

Drug Aware is also a multi-component drug and alcohol initiative and sets a standard of excellence for universal drug education for all pupils, and for targeted early intervention for pupils identified as “at risk”. Drug Aware will ensure that every pupil in our city receives a comprehensive programme of universal drug education from the age of five to 16 that is appropriate to the age level; provide a brand that everybody in our city, including parents and the media, can identify with; ensure effective screening of drug abuse and risks of drug misuse among young people; provide targeted intervention for “at risk” pupils, including improved referral to specialist services and interventions within the school by trained staff; engage parents much more fully in both policy making and drugs education, and develop closer partnership working with communities and among the police, police community support officers, wardens and local alcohol retailers.

By extending the parameters of drugs education outside the school setting, Drug Aware will facilitate a more cohesive early intervention response embedded within families and communities, which should help maximise its impact. Drug Aware goes further than Blueprint by providing earlier identification of vulnerable young people and better targeted interventions for vulnerable and “at risk” groups. Once a school has met all the required standards, it will receive the Drug Aware award. That standard has to be sustained by the school and its community on a long-term basis and be subject to ongoing assessment and review by the healthy schools team. The ambition in my city is that Drug Aware, across all schools, will result in every pupil in the city receiving a comprehensive universal drug education programme from the age of five to 16, and effective targeted early intervention for those in need. That is some ambition, but we will realise it over the next three years.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is making many sensible and intelligent points. However, does he not think that the programme that he is supporting will find it much more difficult to be effective and successful while fighting against a culture in the chattering classes that accepts the taking of coke at dinner parties and a judicial system that allows pop stars to get away with taking very hard drugs with impunity?

Mr. Allen: My hon. Friend makes a serious and sensible point, and speaks from his experience as a council leader in a big city. It does not help if role models of the wrong sort continue to make the bad headlines to which he referred. We are trying to change the minds of young people, particularly those from homes where parenting standards might not be of the highest level—incidentally, that is another aspect that the early intervention programme in Nottingham is trying to tackle—and provide them with the right
7 Oct 2008 : Column 5WH
foundations so that they can say no to drugs and drink abuse. However, we are not helped when those youngsters see people on television and in the newspapers providing different, poorer examples.

In order to make the initiative work, however, we need to embed our Drug Aware programme in schools. In order to achieve Drug Aware status, our schools and their communities are required to meet set criteria consisting of five components: first, in schools, targeted early interventions are to be provided through four educational link workers and referrals to specialist services, including the identification and support of children affected by parental drug and alcohol abuse; the implementation of a specific drug education scheme of work; local assessment of young people through the Engage drugs project to identify substance use issues and targeted interventions; and Drug Aware, which will identify the external providers most effective at engaging with young people on substance abuse for schools to select from. Secondly, parents have a role, too. We intend to ensure that schools provide parent training sessions and workshops; that parents are fully involved in setting drug and alcohol policy through task groups; and that the appropriate literature is available to parents.

Thirdly, the media need to be a part of this—and they will be—and we hope that they will celebrate schools that achieve the Drug Aware award. The Minister will know of the excellent work done by the Nottingham Evening Post in our own locality in publicising the Dare scheme, which is a very important local drug education scheme. We hope that the profile achieved by Dare can be continued through the Drug Aware award. Fourthly, within the community, each school must be actively involved in devising local drugs and alcohol campaigns, graduations for each year of drugs curriculum completed and out-of-school diversionary activities. Finally, on policy, we must involve young people, parents, schools, local retailers and the police, all of whom should, and will, be consulted by the CDP through policy-setting task groups both inside and outside the classroom.

What can be learned from our experience? In pioneering Drug Aware education in an early intervention context, I hope that a number of lessons will be learned. Drug education must be part of a wider strategy. Drug problems are often the result of multiple disadvantages, including those experienced by individuals who are part of “at risk” families, especially where parents or siblings are drug abusers; truanting and offending; living in neighbourhoods where drugs are readily available; self-medicating to alleviate an unhappy home life; and physical or emotional abuse. At the core of any effective prevention or intervention strategy for problem drug use must be a strong commitment to tackle its causes and context, which is why our educational approach fits into the early intervention package that we are pioneering in the city of Nottingham. It will develop the social and emotional capabilities to tackle the underlying causes of the intergenerational cycle that manifests itself in so many symptoms, such as drug and drink abuse, teenage pregnancy and low educational attainment, that afflict constituencies such as mine.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I am pleased that my hon. Friend has referred to alcohol and drug education, but tobacco appears to be missing from the Nottingham education package—perhaps I am wrong
7 Oct 2008 : Column 6WH
to assume that that is the case. Tobacco is the first point of addiction for many young people; is it included in the package?

Mr. Allen: There is a limit to what can be covered in one debate, and I do not wish to run over time. However, I should like to reassure my hon. Friend that in pursuing an early-intervention package, One Nottingham funds several anti-tobacco initiatives, including efforts to prevent people from smoking. I have some notes on the alcohol part of the drug and alcohol awareness strategy, but I have had to skip over them rather quickly. However, both those addictive substances are definitely on the agenda, and they are being covered.

Another issue that others could learn about from Nottingham is collaborative working. Partnership is a much abused word, but I hope that we in Nottingham have proved that community involvement, partnerships and collaborative working—whichever phrase one likes to use—are not just add-ons that are nice to have, but are essential. Just as we have said that crime is too important to be left to the police, so drug education and the tackling of drug problems are too important to be left to enforcement or to the health services. This issue is everyone’s problem, and I hope that we show that in what we do locally.

We need to ensure that substance misuse training is embedded in all mainstream services, so that everyone has the right set of skills. The Drug Aware award is a fine example of something encompassing all our local partners—the local NHS, the city council, criminal justice agencies, the alcohol industry, trading standards, children’s services, the fire service, both of Nottingham’s universities and the Nottingham business improvement district. A vast array of people is committed to making this policy work.

Data tracking is another important issue that One Nottingham and the Drug Aware effort will highlight. We need more localised and up-to-date data collection if the early intervention package is to be effective, not least on drug misuse and teenage pregnancy. Drug misuse trends, patterns and hotspots are identified through data collection and fed back to partner agencies through the crime and drugs partnership’s tackling violent crime group. In addition, a new data collection system has been introduced at our hospital’s accident and emergency department to collect data on attendances for assault to help the CDP and police to identify hot spots for alcohol-related violent crime in particular and to enhance the intelligence base for enforcement action.

However, the CDP has encountered data-tracking obstacles in its work at a local level. We have repeatedly had to make do with national statistics from general household and national alcohol consumption surveys, for example. That gap in local data sources means that it is more difficult to develop a localised, let alone personalised, solution to the problem. Of course, there must be safeguards, but there must also be a greater commitment to putting data to work at regional and local levels. I have asked the Minister to consider establishing a troubleshooting unit at national level to cut through some of the unintended consequences, misapplication and mythology around data protection, which might become every bureaucracy’s favourite excuse if we are not careful.

7 Oct 2008 : Column 7WH

We must develop 11 to 16-year-olds’ key social and emotional capabilities as a backdrop to tackling symptoms such as drug and alcohol abuse, low educational attainment and high levels of antisocial behaviour and teenage pregnancy. The Home Office must reach out to the Department for Children, Schools and Families and make a strong case for a statutory requirement on all schools to provide Life Skills 11-16, including modules on drug abuse and teenage pregnancy, and that should be covered in Ofsted assessments of schools’ performance. I am committed to trying that in my constituency, and I hope that the local strategic partnership, One Nottingham, will consider funding such a proposal throughout our city.

Local entrepreneurship, however, is no substitute for national policy led by a committed Minister. In addition, there must be a clear Government commitment to building drug education into mainstream teacher training, through both initial teacher training and continuing professional development. Finally, there must be consistent resources for universal drug education. Locally, One Nottingham is funding the Drug Aware award for three years; when it has proved itself, it will be taken over by mainstream providers. Nationally, Government must insist that every locality does something similar. Local agencies could easily fund this if a Minister made a case to the Treasury proposing that they keep half the proceeds of every drug rehab place saved. Treasury rules and civilisation as we know it might fall apart at such a suggestion, but let us incentivise people to invest in education, rather than pay the massive continuing costs of rehabilitating a smaller number of individuals.

In conclusion, we in Nottingham have worked with the grain of Government thinking in bringing forward our Drug Aware policy, which we believe is a state-of-the-art effort within the United Kingdom. The Government now need to look at the plethora of schemes nationwide and promote a model drug education scheme that can be adapted for use in every part of the UK. Nottingham’s Drug Aware programme might be the forerunner of such a scheme. If the Minister, my friend, sets that guidance rolling in his last act as a junior Minister, he will save billions of pounds and thousands of wasted lives, and will have the understanding and thanks of every parent in the land.

9.56 am

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). He spoke about the part that the statutory sector—schools and police—can play in increasing drug awareness. His contribution was characteristically calm, almost forensic at times, and he showed a lot of compassion and common sense, as is his usual manner. I congratulate him on bringing this important subject to the House so soon after its return from recess.

Next Section Index Home Page