So much spending, and so little to show for it
IN THE space of barely a week, two crashing social policy failures have been laid bare on the Executive's doorstep. First, a report from Audit Scotland concluded there was no evidence that the extra £100 million spent since 2000 on combating youth crime has had any effect on keeping youngsters out of trouble. The report said the record spending on youth crime - a priority, you may recall, of the previous Holyrood administration - has failed to show results.
Now come figures showing that drug deaths in Scotland hit a record high of 421 last year, a jump of 25 per cent on the previous year's total, and 10 per cent up on the previous high of 382 in 2002.
Bearing in mind that this comes after the spending of tens of millions of pounds on drug information campaigns and tens of millions more on drug counselling, rehab and recovery, and it is clear beyond argument that present policies to curb drug abuse in Scotland are failing.
Seldom can there have been clearer evidence that the approaches adopted over the past decade have fallen woefully short of expectations. Indeed, in the two areas where the social welfare and support industry has grown most vigorously, the need for a clear-out of failed policies and a radical new approach is critical.
There is one argument advanced in mitigation of this policy train-wreck. It goes like this. The good work of the welfare professionals is unrecorded and invisible. We do not keep statistics of young people kept out of trouble or addicts successfully rehabilitated. Were professional services not employed, and hundreds of millions of pounds not spent in the areas of youth crime and drug abuse, the figures we are seeing now would be even more appalling.
The problem with this defence is that, to the extent that it is true, it is an effective admission that the best that policy has done so far is to slow the rate of social deterioration and that the problem is in fact far bigger than even today's horrific figures indicate.
When, last year, Scotland's "drugs tsar", Tom Wood, chairman of the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, dared to say that the "war on drugs" was being lost, and that despite decades of action, Scotland still has some of the highest substance abuse rates in Europe, with more than 50,000 heroin addicts, he was accused of being defeatist. Politicians lined up to criticise him and demand even more draconian action against the "drug dealers" and, of course, "more resources".
But what is increasingly clear is that the public no longer believes the rhetoric of "one more heave" and "more resources".
So many millions were spent under the previous administration that Jack McConnell came to resemble a desperate central banker seeking to reignite confidence by throwing money out of a helicopter.
The public wants to see some results from the millions of pounds already being hurled at these problems every year, rather than letting "Helicopter Jack" be out- scattered by "Helicopter Alex".
It is fashionable to blame these problems on inequality or poverty. Yet the incidence of youth crime seems impervious to the resources thrown at poorer areas. Drug abuse and addiction, like alcohol abuse and addiction, tend to cut across stereotypes of class and background.
Others blame poor parenting. But this ignores the many instances where drug abuse and addiction have broken up and destroyed loving families. Even if there was not a lethal cultural sickness, the state, no matter how well resourced, cannot be everyone's parent. And if we have forgotten what responsible parenting is, or have grown disinclined to practise it, then our problems in both these areas are set to grow much worse.
WHAT, then, is to be done? As a first step, there needs to be an urgent and sweeping overhaul of school "socialisation", with groundwork programmes on the killer consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. We cannot hope for abstinence. But we should build, for every child, an unbreakable link for the rest of their lives between cause and effect, between what seems fun and what will kill us. Who better in many cases to tell this story, vividly and memorably, than ex-addicts?
More can be done to hone and refine social programmes that work, such as the early intervention scheme in East Renfrewshire that has cut the number of youth offences. Similar work can be done in rehabilitation centres to encourage and reward those treatments that prove efficacious and which have a low recidivism score.
I see no reason why professionals in youth and drug "turnabout" programmes that have been proven to work should not be given generous bonuses on the basis of results - young people who have not re-offended after a period of years, or numbers of recovering addicts who have stayed clean.
In both cases, it is the individual who has to make the biggest effort - the young offender to break away from a previous life and addicts who have to hit a personal rock-bottom before wanting to change. But the best help should be ready at these critical change points. Generous performance- related pay would be a welcome incentive to get these "Tough Love" programmes to work.
Heaven knows we have created enough hedge-fund millionaires. Why not rewards for those who have turned round young people's lives and made that most fundamental difference of all for addicts - the one between life and death?
One thing is clear from the evidence that is piling up before our eyes: we cannot carry on as we are.
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