Next Thursday on the 5th of March 2021, Tower Hamlets Council will be passing a budget with proposed savings, a large portion of which, will fall on the Drug Treatment service. At a time of rising unemployment and poverty in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic, how essential is the service?
Tower Hamlets has the highest number of drug users in all London Boroughs, over 3,244 in 2016/17, which inevitably has grown since then. To give the reader perspective, that is in excess of the capacity at St. Paul’s Cathedral. More than half are not in treatment, with nearly 50% having mental health issues ranging from anxiety and depression to acute psychosis.
The effects of which are experienced by many residents on a daily basis. Issues around drugs feature constantly as concerns in Tower Hamlets Councils own resident survey, issues ranging from ASB, associated crime to people witnessing the sale of drugs in their neighbourhoods.
On the face of it, drug addiction is often described as an “equal opportunity” problem that can afflict people from all races and walks of life, but while in one sense true, this obscures the fact that drug addiction crisis has particularly affected residents in the poorer demographics and has a strong link to poverty. Nobel Prize-winning economist, Angus Deaton, has demonstrated a link between increased poverty with increased rates of mental stress, leading to increasing rates of addiction. In the paper, Deaton attributes much of the increased mortality among middle-aged white Americans to direct and indirect health effects of substance use especially among those with less education, who have faced increasing economic challenges and increased psychological stress as a result.
Addiction not only has an impact on immediate families but also an impact on the wider neighbourhood with associated criminal activity. It also has an impact on the addict’s health, leading to lower life expectancy (Tower Hamlets) has the lowest life expectancy in all London Boroughs after Newham.
It will take us time to understand the full extent of the impact of Covid-19, on levels of drug addictions in Tower Hamlets. A good indicator is the increase in domestic violence incidents since the announcement of the first Lockdown. Many of the domestic violence cases being triggered by the use of alcohol or drugs. Given this uncertain picture, is it wise for Tower Hamlets Council to go ahead with a restructuring of Drug Treatment service?
At the forthcoming budget meeting, I will be raising this issue. Although voting through the budget proposed by the Mayor, asking for a review of the budget within the year, where we will have a clearer picture of the impact of Covid-19 on the levels of addiction in Tower Hamlets. Drug treatment in Tower Hamlets is not a fringe issue, given the scale of it, it is one of the key factors behind many of the issues that affect negatively the quality of life of residents in the East End.