Kit Malthouse – 2021 Statement on the Government’s Ten-Year Drugs Strategy

The statement made by Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Crime and Policing, in the House of Commons on 6 December 2021.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s new 10-year strategy for addressing illicit drug use, which has been published today.

Illegal drugs inflict devastation on a horrifying scale. The impact on individuals, families and neighbourhoods is profound. The cost to society is colossal—running to nearly £20 billion a year in England alone—but the greatest tragedy is the human cost. Drugs drive nearly half of all homicides, and a similar proportion of crimes such as robbery, burglary and theft. More people die every year as a result of illegal drug use than from all knife crime and road traffic accidents combined. The county lines drug dealing model fuels violence and exploitation. The need for action could not be clearer. Today, we are setting out how we will turn that around. Our new strategy “From harm to hope” is a blueprint for driving drugs out of our cities, towns and villages, and for ensuring that those affected get the help that they so badly need.

In February 2019, the Government commissioned Professor Dame Carol Black to conduct an independent review of the issues and challenges relating to drug misuse. In July, Dame Carol published the second part of her review. Both parts together formed a call to action. We accept all Dame Carol’s key recommendations, and this strategy sets out our response in full.

The task of gripping the issue cannot be undertaken by any one Department alone. A collective effort is required, which is why we have developed a whole-system approach, with a focus on three strategic priorities: first, breaking drug supply chains; secondly, delivering a world-class treatment and recovery system; and thirdly, achieving a significant reduction in demand for illegal drugs over the next generation. It is a truly whole-of-Government effort that takes in contributions from a number of my ministerial colleagues. I thank Dame Carol Black for her thorough reviews and championing of this important agenda.

I am pleased to tell the House that our strategy is accompanied by nearly £900 million of dedicated funding. That record level of investment will bring our total spending on drug enforcement, treatment and recovery to more than £3 billion over the next three years. That is unprecedented and a clear signal of our commitment, and that of the Prime Minister, to addressing the challenges.

Using that funding, we will mount a relentless and uncompromising campaign against the violent and exploitative illegal drug market. That will include: further action to prevent drugs from entering the country; the disruption of criminal gangs responsible for drug trafficking and supply; a zero-tolerance approach to drugs in prisons; and a continued focus on rolling up county lines, building on the success of our efforts to date.

The county lines phenomenon is one of the most pernicious forms of criminality to emerge in recent years, which is why we ramped up activity to dismantle the business model behind that threat. Since that programme was launched just over two years ago, we have seen the closure of more than 1,500 county lines, with over 7,400 arrests. Importantly, more than 4,000 vulnerable, often young, people have been rescued and safeguarded. Those results speak for themselves, but we will not stop there. By investing £300 million in throttling the drugs supply chain over the next three years, we will take a significant stride towards delivering the objectives of our beating crime plan and levelling-up agenda.

Tough enforcement action must be coupled with a renewed focus on breaking the cycle of drug addiction, which is why we are investing an additional £780 million in creating a world-class treatment and recovery system. That is the largest ever single increase in treatment and recovery investment, and the public will expect to see results—and so do we.

The strategy sets out how the whole-of-Government mission aims to significantly increase the numbers of drug and alcohol treatment places, and people in long-term recovery from substance addiction, to reverse the upward trend in drug-related deaths, and to bolster the crime prevention effort by reducing levels of offending associated with drug dependency. To achieve that, we are setting out a clear stance today that addiction is a chronic condition and that when someone has been drawn into drug dependency, they should be supported to recover. Of the £780 million, £530 million will be spent on enhancing drug treatment services, while £120 million will be used to increase the number of offenders and ex-offenders who are engaged in the treatment that they need to turn their lives around.

Treatment services are just one part of the support that people need to sustain a meaningful recovery, so we are investing a further £68 million for treatment and additional support for people with a housing need and £29 million for specialised employment support for people who have experienced drug addiction. That enhanced spending on drug treatment and recovery will also help to drive down crime by cutting levels of drug-related offending.

The harms caused by drug misuse are not distributed evenly across the country. Although our strategy is designed to deliver for the country as a whole, it is right that we target our investment so that the areas with the highest levels of drug use and drug-related deaths and crime are prioritised. That will be a key step in levelling up such areas and supporting them to prosper.

Local partners working together on our long-term ambitions will be key to the strategy’s success and we will develop a new set of local and national measures of progress against our key strategic aims, with clear accountability at national and local levels. We will also continue to work closely with our partners in the devolved Administrations to embed collaboration, share good practice and strengthen our evidence base in this UK-wide challenge.

The new strategy sets out our immediate priorities while also highlighting our longer-term goals. We want to see a generational shift in our society’s attitude towards drugs, which means reducing the demand for illegal drugs and being utterly unequivocal about the swift and certain consequences that individuals will face if they choose to take drugs as part of their lifestyle. We will improve our methods for identifying those drugs users and roll out a system of tougher penalties that they must face.

Unlawful possession of drugs is a crime and we need to be clear that those who break the law should face consequences for their actions. That is why our commitment includes going even further in this mission with a White Paper next year to ensure that the penalties for recreational use are tougher and have a clear and increasing impact. Those penalties must be meaningful for the individual, which is why we are considering options such as increased powers to fine individuals, requirements to attend drug awareness courses, and other reporting requirements and restrictions on their movement, including—possibly—the confiscation of passports and driving licences.

Alongside that, our strategy commits to research, innovation and building a world-leading evidence base to achieve a once-in-a-generation shift in attitudes and behaviours. A new £5-million cross-Government innovation fund and a new research fund will start that decade-long journey. That will include a review by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on how best to prevent vulnerable people from falling into drug use. A national drugs summit will be also held in spring next year to bring together experts, educators, businesses, law enforcement and Government to discuss the issue.

Preventing drug use is always a better route than dealing with the consequences of harms. The strategy also sets out our commitment to evaluating mandatory relationships, sex and health education in schools, and to supporting young people and families most at risk of substance misuse. The new strategy marks the start of a journey and we will publish annual reports to track progress against the ambitions contained in it.

Illegal drugs are the cause of untold misery across our society. The Government will not stand by while lives are being destroyed. This is about reducing crime, levelling up our country and, fundamentally, saving lives. Our new strategy sets out how we will turn the tide on drug misuse, and I commend this statement to the House.