28 November 2010

Why the Release Helpline is still essential!

It's depressing news that the Release helpline is facing a funding crisis and faces closure imminently if funding can't be secured.

It can't really be stressed how unique and essential the Release Helpline is. From an outside perspective, Government and funders may well think that the Release helpline is no longer required due to the presence of Frank, the Government-funded helpline. But in practice, Frank is only able to provide a superficial service, skimming across the top of key issues and providing a basic level of information to children and young people. Anyone requiring anything more complex needs to be referred - and all too often the Frank helpline operator will redirect the person to Release.

Frank has been a huge money-pit. Between 2006 and 2008 Frank blew more than £3.5m in advertising alone - more than Release's income for the entire period 2005 through 2009. And it is an ongoing scandal that the rebranded service has had so much money lavished on it and yet cannot deliver a proper telephone help service for drug users. In a situation where the state-funded drugs helpline is unable to manage complex calls, and indeed acknowledges this by referring such calls, it seems only fair that proportion of the money lavished on it are diverted to fund helplines capable of delivering such work.

Sadly, this situation is not new, and while it is to be hoped Frank's funding and running will be reviewed, any such review is likely to come too late for the Release helpline.

In the months and years to come, the Release helpline will be needed more than any time since its inception in the late Sixties. Changes to prescribing practice are likely to see patients on opiate substitutes having to fight for treatment, especially as time-limits on prescribing become more wideplace and prescribers become more rigid in relation to use on top. Changes to welfare rules and housing strategy will also see more drug users seeking help as they encounter benefit or housing problems. While local services such as CAB offer an indispensable service (but are themselves terribly over stretched) callers desperately need a service that understands drugs,treatment, law, housing, benefits, employment and is able to access this service for free and by phone.

Release has had a number of funding scares and but this one, coming as it does at  a time of increased need and huge austerity is the worst for a long time. It is imperative that the Helpline survives this crisis.

Support Release here

14 November 2010

Dopey Journalism # 1: The Price of A Plant

There's been a lot of cannabis "factory" raids of late which has given journalists and the police the chance to go wild with their estimates of the relative value of the crops seized:

So for example the Belfast Telegraph reported a raid in which sixty plants were seized: stated value: £30,000 or £500/plant.

This figure is presumably based on each plant producing a notional 5oz per plant, with a (cheap) street value of £100/oz
Compare this, though, the a reported raid in Essex, reported in the Mirror: 8,000 plants seized with a stated value of £2m. So the value of these plants has dropped to a mere £250/plant. In nearby Cambridge, 1,300 plants were reported to have a street value of £750,000 or almost £600/plant according to the BBC.

In Liverpool, the media stated the value of plants at almost three times this; the Liverpool Daily Post cited the value of 275 seized cannabis plants at an amazing £223,000 - or £810/plant.

It's fortunate then that the same valuation wasn't applied to a Wolverhampton man reported in the Stourbridge News (in a piece of journalism which is odious in its own right) who had two plants in a wardrobe with a reported value of £300.

So from £150/plant up to £800/plant, it seems that dopey hacks will report any figure given to them by the Police. But in turn the risk is that the courts will be equally credulous of inflated figures.

If you spot a reported figure for a plant of higher than £800/plant let us know!

02 November 2010

Ashes to Ashes

I am sure that I am not the only person who suspects that they have been involved in some horrific accident and have somehow woken up in the 1980's just like that programme on the TV. I constantly have to scan for modern cultural references to reassure myself. Only the other week when I was confronted with a picture of La Snatch - aka Maggie Thatcher milk snatcher (ask your parents) on the front page of a newspaper I thought; 'It's ok I am in a Cafe Nero - we didn't have coffee shop chains in the 80's'.

But seriously we are hurtling back to the values and attitudes of that decade; the 'rolling back of the state' with the most vulnerable in society being cast out, where not for profit is is being replaced by run for profit.

My most immediate concern is for those people who are currently rough sleeping and those being supported either in hostel accommodation or self contained via Supporting People money.

For those of you who don't know Supporting People funds all supported accommodation to a number of vulnerable groups; Learning Difficulties, Physical & Sensory Disabled, Mental Health, Older People and Homelessness, which in itself encompasses offenders, substance misuse etc.

Supporting People was comprised by amalgamating a lot of disparate streams of funding in to one central pot to be administered by the Local Authority and this pot of money was ring - fenced.

There had always been a bit of tension as being in a 2 tier authority area the county council controlled the pot of money, but despite this a lot of good work was done especially in improving access to a range of accommodation options for drug users at all stages of their recovery, including actively using. (Of course all this was helped by the great resource that is the KFX Housing and Drugs Website sample drugs policies and other materials, but I digress).

Last year the ring fence was removed, but the grant was protected albeit a 10% cut. This coming year the grant will not be protected and will make up part of the Area Based Grant. Therefore we always knew that we were in for a rocky ride especially as the county council were proposing a move away from block contract agreements with accommodation/ support providers to 'variable volume contracts' (Newspeak for Spot Contracts). However this was always discussed as an incremental change and there was an understanding that some providers would still need an element of a block contract. Indeed there were proposals for some joint commissioning between SP the DAAT Probation and Mental Health, change was in the air but there were proposals to manage it.

Meanwhile in the background, trouble was looming; 2008 had seen a change in administration at the County Council with the Tories taking overall control. At first, nothing much happened; like when a nuclear bomb is dropped - first silence then a blast followed by fallout.

I can't remember the exact order of things but it happened something like this; first the portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services disbanded the Joint Commissioning Body (made up of representatives of the District Councils and Partner Agencies such as the DAAT, Probation etc), he also disbanded the next tier down. Then all work-streams were cancelled such as the review of Women's Hostels. Money pledged from an underspend to support accredited training in complex needs and work with Rough Sleepers was withdrawn without any notice or discussion. The proposed JSNA for Homelessness was also postponed.

Next we were informed that Supporting People would cease to exist after March 2011. The monies would be subsumed into Adult Social Care and a framework agreement and Pathway would be set up. No discussion. No debate.

The problem with SP being controlled by County Council is that, of course they have no statutory duty towards preventing or dealing with homelessness, that is the duty of district councils, so once the ring- fence is off there is absolutely no onus upon them to spend it on what was intended. Another 'worry' is the money moving into Adult Social Care; anyone who works with people who are homeless know how difficult it is to get adult social care to accept a duty to their clients, especially if (god forbid) they take drugs or are non compliant, indeed social services are often referred to as the 'empty chair' at Multi Agency Meetings.

If the situation wasn't dire enough we then had the General Election and the Con-dems with their attack on the Public Sector. This gave the County Council the excuse to cut (sorry prioritise) 50% of current SP services by March 2011 all this before George Osborne uttered a word on the 20th October. Of course Tory central are saying that they have limited cuts to SP budgets and they are committed to ending rough sleeping BUT THEY HAVEN'T RING FENCED ANY OF THE MONEY!!!!!! so Local Authorities faced with an overall cut of 25% of their budget will spend as they see fit on and guess who will be at the back of the queue, the homeless the already chronically excluded. We can't even offset some of the losses by getting creative with Housing Benefit because they are cutting that as well.

I was told yesterday that the County Councils' 'Corporate Leadership Team'. Will be meeting to discuss budget levels in November and that it will be possible to watch this live on the internet.
Is this an example of local democracy - We have access so that we can passively observe the decisions they will make.

Any way enough for now - next time Framework Agreements - the truth

Penelope P-S

KFx Regional Bloggers

As drugs and housing care in the UK looks like it's on a fast rewind to the early eighties, it was clearly time to revert to time honoured approaches to activism. So we have been recruiting regional bloggers to provide news and commentary about relevant regional developments which are having a real effect on the ground.

All the regional bloggers are people who have been approached to take part because of their integrity, passion and belief in the need for high quality interventions for people affected by drugs and/or in housing need.

Our first regional bulletin is going up now.

Knowledge is Power.