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Having only just started as an intern at the RSA, working across the Whole Person Recovery Project and Recovery Capital Project, I find myself constantly burdened by nerves, an inability to remember anyone’s name, and only a small amount of specialised knowledge about the substance misuse field. It can sometimes feel like I’m in over my head.

In a strangely reassuring way however, I don’t seem to be the only one.

Last week I attended the ‘After progress2work’conference at London’s Guildhall hosted by Inclusion. Its focus was the future of drug policy in the current economic climate and the future of the progress2work scheme.

As many of you may already know, the Drug Strategy 2010 and the Ministry of Justice Green Paper ‘Breaking the Cycle’ both emphasise employment as key in contributing to a sustained recovery from drug and alcohol dependency. 

With this in mind, the government has set out a number of ways in which individuals who take steps to address their dependence will be supported in a way that will meeting their personal needs but with a particular focus on rehabilitation through employment.

This makes some sense. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that drug and alcohol use and unemployment are correlated. For instance, in 2010, The Prince’s Trust YouGovYouth Index found that one in ten young people felt that unemployment drove them to drugs and alcohol. One of the young people - quoted on the right - involved in the Whole Person Recovery Report helps to illustrate the point further.

Now, all of this is well and good, and it was inspiring to see a good number of voluntary groups, community groups, and charities come together to discuss the implementation of the government’s plans. But the big elephant in the room continues to be ignored (although it was pointed at in the conference discussions): what jobs?

We’ve heard recently about the possibility of a double-dip recession, with the jobless level expected to rise during 2011 and The British Chamber of Commerce’s chief economist, David Kern, similarly warned that unemployment would rise by 100,000 to 2.6 million over the next year.

It’s true that for many, employment is a fantastic way of supporting and sustaining recovery from problem drug or alcohol use. Yet I wonder about the utility of putting so much emphasis on employment as the crucial indicator of successful recovery. Shouldn’t the emphasis be on supporting personalised routes to a self-defined end point? And rather than narrowly aiming for jobs shouldn’t we be focussing on supporting people to become job-ready and develop the entrepreneurial skills that are becoming increasingly necessary when job opportunities are shrinking?


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