Friday, 13 November 2009

Is this the book to save us from the Tory Menace?

Transform yesterday launched "After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation" at the House of Commons. Having read most of it, I am confident it can be employed to great effect in backing up a Liberal Democrat policy of strictly regulating a legal trade in drugs.

This document is undoubtedly tough on drugs and I will be writing to Nick Clegg to inform him of this and to encourage him to act in the strongest possible terms. This book, to be blunt "covers our ass" on the issue with its sober, rational examination of the options for leading the world into a post-prohibition reality. It is now time to take off our gloves and mercilessly attack the prohibitionist policy that sacrifices untold numbers of children at the altar of the UN narcotics conventions and the dangerous, hysterical rantings of wrong-headed Daily Mail columnists. I will not stand by as prohibition pushes our desperate, vulnerable youth into the arms of the pushers, pimps and the vicious criminal profiteers who currently terrorise our communities. Far from creating drug-ridden anarchy, this book allows us to see that a legal drugs market can help create a better, safer world, where children and young people are protected from harm, and ignorance of the risks of drug consumption can no longer ruin lives.

These are genuinely exciting times in British politics. The Lib Dems have an opportunity to restore faith in politics by presenting a policy that will save billions of wasted pounds and create a paradigm shift in society that again casts the police as servants, not persecutors of the people and can allow previously cowering communities to escape the dispiriting influence of drugs and crime.
We now have all the tools necessary to build the Britain we want to live in, and perhaps the most finely crafted can be found here:

Sunday, 8 November 2009

How do we open up a home front against the Taliban?

In World War II it seemed the whole of society was mobilised to support the war effort around the world. As we remember today the men and women who have fallen in all the wars this nation has fought, it is time to ask whether we are doing all we can to support our effort in Afghanistan.

The uncomfortable truth is that there are around 250,000 of us who are actively undermining that effort. People who, when combined with their fellows around the world, provide around 50% of the Taliban's funding. For the vast majority it is not their intention to fund the insurgency of religious fundamentalists, and even if you told them they were funding the Taliban, they would struggle to stop. These people are heroin addicts. 92% of the world's heroin originates in Afghanistan, and the Taliban's taxes on the trade and heroin stockpiles are what accounts for around 50% of their income.

So what is the best way of breaking this link between British heroin addicts and the Taliban?

We have tried eradicating poppies in Afghanistan, an act which unfortunately has much the same impact as disrupting trafficking in and around the UK. Namely, the price for the remaining heroin goes up and the Taliban makes the same amount or more money. Indeed the Taliban themselves suppressed opium growing in Afghanistan in 2000 and apparently reaped great financial reward from their efforts "The total farm-gate value of opium rose from US$56 million in 2001 to US$1,200 million in 2002" (UNODC (2004), ‘Presentation to the International Crisis Group on Afghanistan’, Brussels, 5/VII/2004).

Efforts to get addicts off heroin have been successful up to a point, but methadone is a more harmful drug to an addict's health, and is often ineffective in reducing demand for street heroin. Prison is an ineffective deterrent, and rehab is expensive and often unsuccessful.

There is one option available to us that we have yet to try on any great scale. Opium poppies are already being grown in Britain to provide medical opiates in the treatment of our sick. If we were to expand the growing of opium poppies and treat our addicts medically with prescribed heroin, and if other countries were to do the same, we could remove the demand for Afghan opium, and so remove half of the Taliban's current funding, reducing their ability to buys guns, explosives and bullets with which to resist democratic reform and attack British soldiers trying to help Afghanistan rebuild after Taliban rule.

It is the government's short-sighted drugs policy that is funding the Taliban, not the hapless drug-addicted wretches in our cities and towns.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Good luck to the 500,000 turfed off incapacity

I have just been through a very unpleasant experience. In February of this year I attended a medical assessment in order that a doctor could assess my ability to work. I have chronic fatigue, was feeling particularly unwell at the time and was examined by an unsympathetic doctor who put me through all the physical tests despite my explaining that I would be able to perform them now but they would likely lead to fatigue later. In April, I was surprised by a letter through the door from the DWP explaining that I had not scored enough incapacity points and so my incapacity benefit was being stopped. Thanks a bunch. There followed several phone calls to the DWP and visits to CAB (where I had fortunately been volunteering when in ok health) asking for advice on what to claim. After being told 3 different things by the DWP, I was eventually advised to claim Employment Support Allowance and so had to fill out yet another form (less insensitive to the symptoms of chronic fatigue this time, but that's not saying much) and attend another medical (still haven't got the results of that one after several months). My benefit had dropped from £102.25 to £64.30 a week and I was leaking money fast.

I appealed against the decision with the help of Inverness CAB (Thanks Iain) and was told to expect about a six month wait. My tribunal happened on Monday and lasted all of one minute. The judge (put up in the nicest hotel in Inverness the night before) stated that I should have scored at least 3 extra points in various categories and so was approving my appeal. So off I trot to await the £1200 in arrears that have accumulated over the last 7 months.

I was lucky. Had I been on ESA when I was judged fit for work I would have had to claim Jobseeker's Allowance whilst knowing that I was incapable of work. It can't be fun having to apply for jobs you know you will not be able to carry out adequately.

Labour and the Conservatives both want to get 500,000 supposedly fit IB and ESA claimants onto Jobseeker's Allowance, saving £25 a week. I'm sure there are many people out there who are capable of work, but I would much prefer they used the carrot rather than the stick. Both the personal advisors that have been assigned to me have been lovely people who helped me try permitted work last year for a few months to build my confidence. My health didn't last, but the experience was vital in demonstrating to me that there is a path out of incapacity benefit when the time is right.

Over two fifths of IB claimants in Scotland have mental or behavioural disorders such as depression or anxiety. The volunteering and permitted work options could be vitally reassuring in their return to employment, or an effective way to trial various types of work to gauge their suitability. Removing such people abruptly from Incapacity Benefit risks making these stress-related conditions considerably worse and might place additional burden on the health service.

Forcibly moving people off IB adds to the workload of the DWP in processing appeals, costs about £300 a time for each tribunal (at a rate of £300 a minute for mine), and around 45% of appeals are successful. This rate rises to nearer 60% when the appellant has representation. My representative was a welfare rights worker at the Citizen's Advice Bureau (a service already overstretched by the demands of the recession). If someone could let me know how many incapacity benefit recipients appeal removal of benefit (Table IB1.10 I don't have Excel) I might be able to show that the savings the Tories are projecting are insanely optimistic.

Anyway, my chronic fatigue is back again and I'm wilting and ready for bed so this blog post is just going to fade out with this highly unsatisfactory closing sentence.

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Liberal Democrats need to position themselves as the party that will listen to scientific advice

Professor David Nutt was a frustrated man whose recommendations (backed up by scientific evidence) were being ignored by a series of non-scientific Labour politicians. He was making statements that undermined government policy and it is understandable that he has irritated Alan Johnson to the point where he has fired him. Professor Nutt was not some loose cannon though. He was the chair of an indepedent advisory council that was almost entirely supportive of his views. They voted 20 to 3 to keep cannabis as class C and now appear to be ready to resign en masse in protest at his dismissal.

I am heartened by the responses coming from prominent Liberal Democrats on this issue but, with the Tories stating they would have sacked him sooner, we have a fantastic opportunity to establish clear water between ourselves and the other parties on this. We can be the party that listens to evidence presented to us by experts, and the party that formulates policy based upon expert advice. Now is the time to ask scientists, sociologists and economists the bigger question in drug policy:

Does prohibition actually work in reducing the harms drugs cause to individuals and society?

On the 12th of November the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation will be in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons launching their publication "After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation" I hope to hear the Liberal Democrats welcome these proposals and to see evidence that they are re-examining their rather confused drugs policy as a result. As the founder of the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, I will be attending the launch of the Blueprint for Regulation and hope to use it as a starting point from which to push for an examination of current Liberal Democrat policy, the discussion of other policy options and the production of a motion proposing more sensible policy for consideration by party members at Spring conference.

If you wish to join the drug policy debate within the party, please contribute your thoughts at .uk