A new report, Domino Effects (PDF), produced by the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) in partnership with DrugScope and Mentor, warns that a wide range of young people’s services in England are under threat from budget reductions and public service reorganisations, which could undermine the ability of these services to prevent and treat drug and alcohol problems among young people.
Drug use among young people has been steadily declining over the past decade; the proportion of 16 to 24 year olds who said they had used a controlled drug in the previous year fell from 30.0% in 2001/02 to 19.3% in 2011/12. Much progress has been made in the development of young people’s drug and alcohol services and concerns are being voiced that this progress could now be lost as cuts hit hard.
Over half the local Drug Action Teams (51%) which responded to a survey reported that their funding has significantly declined for activities to prevent substance misuse. A further 41% reported significant reductions in funding for treatment for young people with substance misuse problems. As a consequence, some local areas have reduced the activities they provide for young people; others have restricted access to services. These changes could reduce the ability of services for young people in some areas to prevent drug problems and to identify and address problems early when they do develop.
Public services in England are also undergoing a period of significant change, with the creation of a new public health system, NHS reform, the introduction of police and crime commissioners, and the growing use of payment by results to fund public services. The researchers examined the impact of these reforms specifically on young people’s services, concluding that these organisations would increasingly have to compete for funding with adult care budgets. The new national public health framework does not require local areas to prioritise young people’s needs, meaning that young people’s services will be particularly vulnerable to financial pressures.
Nicola Singleton, Director of Policy and Research at the UK Drug Policy Commission, and author of the report, said:
“Drug use among young people has fallen sharply over the last decade, at the same time as we saw a sustained investment in young people’s services. That investment helped create joined-up services that allowed early intervention before specialist drug services were needed.
“Now these services are threatened by a combination of financial pressure and the speed and scale of the current public service reforms.
“Some areas have reacted to these changes by finding efficiency savings and improving the links between different services. It’s important that these positive lessons are shared – but it’s also important that we don’t lose the knowledge that has been built up of what works to reduce and treat drug problems among young people.”
Dr Marcus Roberts, Director of Policy and Membership at DrugScope, said:
“Many young people who need help with drug or alcohol problems are also experiencing other social or emotional issues, such as mental health problems, difficulties at home or school, unemployment or involvement with the criminal justice system.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been hearing concerns from DrugScope’s member agencies for some time now about the impact of local spending cuts and structural reforms on young people’s drug and alcohol treatment. This report provides evidence that significant changes in the way that services are planned and commissioned, coupled with severe budgetary pressures, are threatening to undo the progress that has been made in treatment for this group over the past decade. It maps out some of the challenges facing young people’s services - in a way that makes it difficult for policymakers to ignore.”