Cameron’s cool reception to Blair’s advances

Addaction’s Deborah Cameron tells Maria Ahmed about its uphill battle for public and government support for substance misuse services

● Chief executive, Addaction since January 2006.
● Director of services, the Alcohol Recovery Project 2003-5.
● Director of social services, London Borough of Newham from 1990 to 2000.
● Has worked in social care since 1966.
● Single adoptive parent to two teenagers aged 14 and 17.

When Tony Blair pledged recently to tackle social exclusion, he praised a project run by drugs and alcohol charity Addaction as an example of how to do it.

Head of Addaction Deborah Cameron welcomes the endorsement but remains cool on the government agenda. She has her own view of Blair’s vision.

Cameron, who will mark her first year at the helm of Addaction in January, presides over 700 staff who deliver 70 alcohol and drug services. She is determined to keep raising income for projects “that councils may not ask us to do” rather than bid for more government contracts.

“If charities aren’t careful in the current climate, they will just become the agents of councils,” she says. “The idea of a charity is to be something different, and have the freedom to say and do what you want.”

Last year, Addaction received £1m of private funding to develop its four-year Breaking the Cycle pilot project that provides family treatment interventions for people with drug and alcohol problems. It has raised a further £200,000 for the project this year.

Although Cameron sees the role of a charity like Addaction as providing a wider choice of services for people who are difficult to engage with, drugs are not a popular fundraising cause. “Society’s attitude is that addiction is people’s own fault, and they are to blame for their problems,” Cameron says. “Drugs charities are not fluffy bunny charities that win easy support.”

Cameron, a former social services director, also believes that people with addiction issues are never top of the list for mainstream services. “Social workers are not required to do drug and alcohol training, and attitudes in generic care services are very stereotypical.”

She also says implementing Blair’s social exclusion action plan will depend as much on local political will as central government direction. “You have to ask whether there will be local political commitment to people with drug and alcohol  problems. Social care is not seen as part of regeneration in many areas.”

She also raises concerns about how creating more drug and alcohol projects would work in rural areas, citing Nimbyism as a concern. Another factor is whether money is channelled into quality services or into the punitive Asbo agenda.

Cameron is also critical of the government’s lack of focus on drug treatment in the health service, compared with the investment for drug users in the criminal justice system. With the government’s drug strategy due to end in 2008, Cameron points to anxieties over funding for treatment, particularly in the NHS.

The government’s social exclusion drive may also fail unless more is done to put resources into alcohol services, Cameron argues. “It’s not illegal to drink, so no one has analysed the problem, although it’s a huge public health issue.”

Better aftercare will also be vital: “Aftercare is appalling. There may be good drug services in prison, but many people become homeless when they leave, and get put in a hostel full of users. That’s a waste of investment in prisons,” she says.

“You can’t just focus on treatment. You are not going to get people to survive if they can’t have a reasonable life, a decent place to live and access to employment.”

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 Maria Ahmed

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