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Think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith blasts Islington Council for 'slashing addiction treatment' - but admits government cuts to blame

PUBLISHED: 18:14 29 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:09 30 August 2019

Iain Duncan Smith addresses the Conservative spring forum at the Welsh Conservative Conference in Cardiff. Photo: David Jones

Iain Duncan Smith addresses the Conservative spring forum at the Welsh Conservative Conference in Cardiff. Photo: David Jones

PA Archive/PA Images

A think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith has blasted Islington Council for "slashing addiction treatment" - but it acknowledges central government cuts have precipitated the public health "epidemic".

City Roads was run by Cranstoun. Picture: Will AbbottCity Roads was run by Cranstoun. Picture: Will Abbott

The Centre for Social Justice's (CSJ) Road to Recovery report reveals the government's public health grant to Islington Council fell by more than £3million between 2015 and 2018, prompting the local authority to axe addiction treatment spending per person by a quarter since 2017.

Andy Cook chief exec of the CSJ said: "There has been a clear and worrying correlation between the recent reductions in addiction funding and the increase in drug-related deaths.

"It is a dereliction of duty that we have rehabilitation centres turning away those in need due to a lack of funding.

"The government needs to fulfil its pledge and reverse these sharply deteriorating trends. It must regain lost rehabilitation capacity."

But the report also argues some cash-strapped local authorities are choosing to spend cash on things more popular with their electorate than drugs and alcohol services.

It adds: "At the heart of these cuts is a fundamental system failure. Local authorities have been burdened with increasing responsibilities and with them the treatment of addiction in their community. The direct accountability that local politicians have to their community makes any decision to fund treatment highly unattractive in a case where that money could be spent on a multitude of issues that concern the public."

Erik San-Filippo. Picture: SuppliedErik San-Filippo. Picture: Supplied

In June last year, City Roads, a detox centre run by Cranstoun charity, closed after 41 years due to a lack of funding. The centre served residents of London and the Home Counties for years, with local authorities paying for care for people treated from their patch.

But funding from local authorities in London had reduced over the preceding decade, with Islington Council cutting its contribution by 57 per cent between 2015/16 and 2016/17.

The report cites an FoI request from a Birmingham Labour MP Liam Bryne, which shows there was a 13 per cent increase in alcohol related hospital admissions between 2009 and 2018. It also revealed 58 per cent of local authorities reported cutting budgets for drug and alcohol services in 2018 to 2019, with Islington making the largest proportional cut of £2,431,800 - 34pc of its budget.

The report also finds there is a "marked and deeply concerning correlation between reduction in addiction funding, and wider public health funding" and the increase in drug related deaths since 2010. It estimates one in three drug related deaths in Europe occur in the UK. In May, Erik San-Fillipo, 23, was found dead in a wheelie bin in Tollington Road. A post mortem gave his cause of death as overdose.

An Islington Council spokesperson said: "It is essential that our residents receive the best possible drug and alcohol services, despite the government's cuts to our public health budget since 2014.

"As a result of careful strategic planning, we have ensured that the support available to service users and their families is just what they need, when they need it.

"It also prevents our residents from being passed around the system - there are no waits for treatment, and people are supported to access inpatient detox and rehabilitation where appropriate.

"While the government still needs to reverse its public health funding cuts so such vital work can be better funded, that in itself isn't the whole solution. It also needs to address the underlying causes which can drive some people towards crisis point - scrapping Universal Credit and making it easier for councils to build more social housing would be good places to start."a

A government spokesperson said: "Every drug-related death is a tragedy. While drug misuse is at similar levels to a decade ago, we are absolutely committed to reducing it and the harm it causes.

"Local authorities are best placed to make choices for their communities and we have given them £3bn this year to spend on public health services, including addiction."

CSJ identifies as independent but in 2010 popular Tory blog ConservativeHome voted it the "think tank that has had the biggest impact on the Cameron project", including his "big society" idea, which proposed "integrating the free market with a theory of social solidarity based on hierarchy and volunteerism".

Mr Duncan Smith founded CSJ in 2004, a year after Tory MPs passed a motion of no confidence of his leadership of the party and he resigned. He is still chairman of CSJ.

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