Rather than focussing on one individual area of policy, it might be useful to look in brief at a number of issues that I have been working on. The sector can be affected not only by decisions relating directly to people with histories of drug and/or alcohol use or services that support them, but also those that have a wider application. This month, there are examples of both – the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system, the evolution of the Government’s Social Justice Strategy, and DrugScope’s monitoring of commissioning and funding arrangements for drug and alcohol services.
In April, the Work and Pensions Select Committee announced an inquiry into the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system. Whilst most people will be aware of the rise of contracted-out provision (through labour market interventions such as the Flexible New Deal and then the Work Programme) and the increased use of the internet for making and managing claims, the role of Jobcentre Plus is still central to the relationship between the Department of Work and Pensions and the individual.
With Universal Credit due to start national roll-out in October 2013, Jobcentre Plus will have a different and increasingly important role – for example, applying ‘tailored conditionality’ for people entering structured drug or alcohol treatment, negotiating a Claimant Commitment that better reflects an individual’s circumstances, and dealing at first instance with claims for what is currently income-based Employment and Support Allowance, but will in future be part of Universal Credit. On the labour market and job brokerage side, Jobcentre Plus will still be responsible for supporting people towards paid employment prior to any referral to contracted-out provision such as the Work Programme.
In a joint response with Homeless Link, DrugScope submitted evidence concerning current claimant experiences of Jobcentre Plus, as well as outlining some concerns about the future. We need frontline Jobcentre Plus staff who have genuine understanding of the particular needs and barriers of people with histories of substance use, and are able to support people to disclose. We need services that are joined-up and work collaboratively with treatment providers, Work Programme providers and others. We need a conditionality regime that recognises the genuine problems some people have in understanding, remembering and carrying out the expectations placed on them, and when people are ready and able to progress into work, we need to see diverse services that can provide skilled, specialist employment support.
You can read the submission here.
Social Justice Strategy
In March 2012, the Government published “Social Justice: transforming lives”, a strategy that sets out a vision of social justice. Whilst many concepts of social justice have focussed on process and comparative disadvantage, the strategy instead looks at particular groups – families, young people, unemployed people, and disadvantaged adults, and attempts both to articulate the problems, and what the Government is doing to tackle them. Much of the language used in the strategy will be familiar to those in the drug and alcohol sector - prevention and early intervention; recovery and independence, locally designed and delivered solutions; payment by results and multi-agency delivery.
In April 2013, the Government published an updated Social Justice Outcomes Framework along with a one-year review of the strategy, stating more explicitly the indicators to be measured. A number of indicators identified and factors referred to will be of interest to treatment providers – for example the indicators directly concerning people successfully completing drug or alcohol treatment, gaining employment and (where relevant) ceasing offending, but also related subjects such as homelessness, financial exclusion and debt, educational outcomes for young people and health inequalities.
The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Inclusion) has been commissioned by DWP to develop a Social Justice Toolkit that will provide an easy-to-use overview of Social Justice Indicators (based around the themes of families, young people, the importance of work, disadvantaged adults, plus delivering social justice) in all local authorities. The aim is to produce an easy to use tool for local policy makers, commissioners and service providers, to aid understanding of local factors and priorities. DrugScope, along with other agencies including Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) is working with Inclusion to identify potential data sources with the aim of launching the toolkit in July 2013.
April 2013 saw further changes which will continue to transform the commissioning and funding of drug and alcohol services. Two of the most visible aspects of this are the transfer of public health responsibilities to Local Authorities and the election last year of Police and Crime Commissioners who are significant players in commissioning services that cut across substance use, criminal justice and offending.
These major changes are taking place against a background of further reforms that either relate directly to the sector, or could otherwise have some bearing, for example the folding of the NTA into Public Health England, payment by results, changes planned to offender rehabilitation and welfare reform. Across different policy areas, the continued drive to commission joint services and encourage partnership working is plain.
With so much decision making devolved to local level, DrugScope - with the Recovery Partnership – is actively trying to understand the national picture. We are currently mapping local decision making and commissioning structures – DATs / DAATs, Directors of Public Health, Health and Wellbeing Boards as well as Police and Crime Commissioners and other stakeholders. We’ll be looking at what priorities they are setting, how they are setting them, and what changes to funding and commissioning occur as a result. Later this year, we’re planning on carrying out a state of the sector – or SOS - survey looking directly at the experience of services and service providers.
However much we can do, nothing counts as much as eyes and ears on the ground. On behalf of the Recovery Partnership, DrugScope has established RecoveryWatch, a system enabling people to let us know of local developments – big or small, positive or negative – to help to inform our work over the coming months.
Whatever your role, your information will be welcome and will be treated with the strictest confidence. You can find out more about RecoveryWatch here.
Senior Policy Officer