The Big Ask

Russell Booth CGLThe government’s drug strategy brought increased investment, fresh ideas and a renewed focus on the importance of drug treatment services in local communities.

We’ll be about three years into this ten-year strategy when parliament is dissolved, government offices are cleared out and we march to the polls to pick our representatives for the coming years. 

It’s a big moment in a painfully busy political landscape. As with any change, there’s a chance that priorities will shift and it’s our responsibility to make sure we do everything we can to prevent the vital work of drug treatment services from slipping down the political agenda.

That’s why this year, for the first time, Change Grow Live hosted events at both the Conservative and Labour party conferences. We talked about the importance of the drug strategy and shared five asks for the next government: 

1. Back the vision behind the national ten-year drug strategy

The drug strategy provides a vision for the transformation of drug treatment services. It recommends new partnerships between the NHS, the third sector and other public health services to create system stability, and also recognises that drug and alcohol dependency is a health condition. We want to see a new government back this vision and commit to building on the progress made over the past two years. We also want to see the success of the drug strategy measured through a broader variety of qualitative metrics. moving away from a focus on narrow data points.

2. Commit to sustainable three-year funding cycles

Change is needed but yearly funding cycles make long-term change to service delivery challenging. It’s hard to plan and deliver long-term ideas if you don’t know how much funding will be available. 

To ensure that additional funding can deliver genuine, sustainable benefits in local communities, we want to see the introduction of funding cycles of at least three years. For every £1 spent on drug treatment, £4 is saved, and demands on health, prison, law enforcement and emergency services are reduced. Stable funding will mean that improvements delivered through the drug strategy are long-lasting and that cost savings are realised.

3. Recognise the role of third sector service providers in delivering high quality drug and alcohol treatment as part of the wider public health system

Third sector providers of drug and alcohol services are part of the wider public health system, but this is not always recognised or acknowledged. The third sector offers innovation and flexibility, and often has strong roots in local communities. It plays a crucial role in delivering high quality treatment for people who use drugs and alcohol, which helps to tackle health inequalities and reduce pressures on the NHS. 

To maximise the value of the third sector, our treatment services need to be a fully integrated public health system and contribute to decisions about service design and delivery. As a minimum, drug and alcohol treatment services should be represented and given equal voice at all Combating Drugs Partnerships across the country.

4. Work with us to beat stigma

People who use drugs and alcohol deal with prejudice, ignorance, and misconceptions, which makes it harder for them to access the services they need. When people are seen as individuals instead of defined by their drug or alcohol use, their treatment and recovery journey becomes less challenging. 

As with campaigns to tackle the stigma around mental health, we want to work with the incoming government to run national awareness campaigns and local training to help professionals and the public understand the needs and lives of people who use drugs and alcohol.

5. Publish and implement a comprehensive substance misuse workforce strategy

We are calling on the next government to publish a workforce strategy in line with the drug strategy’s ambition to encourage more people to work in the sector, and to provide high-quality training and development for them. A comprehensive strategy to rebuild the substance misuse workforce is critical to increasing the capacity and improving the quality of services, and to realising the benefits of the national drug strategy.

We believe that change is possible, and we believe the time is right to make it happen. The changes we have already seen within the sector, coupled with prospect of a looming general election, have created an opportunity for us to reimagine the future. Our asks for the next government have a crucial part to play in turning our ideas and principles into reality, and to help more people change their lives for the better.

If anything I’ve written here chimes with your thinking and your ambitions for the future, then let’s work together. We have a much greater chance of cutting through the noise if we act as a single voice. Contact me at

Russell Booth is national communications advisor at Change Grow Live


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