Some not-so-festive cheer for the Home Office as the high level Whitehall bodies seem to lining up to point a finger at its drug strategy consultation document and say; 'hang on a second, that's complete rubbish'
- First it received a pasting in the House of Lords from a selection of distinguished peers. (read the gory details here)
- Then from the Government's own appointed committee of experts, the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (which, ironically enough, operates within the Home Office), that noted in its submission to the consultation that:
"it is unfortunate that the consultation paper’s ‘key facts and evidence’ section appears to focus on trying to convince the reader of success and progress; rather than providing an objective review and presentation of the current evidence. The ACMD found the consultation paper self-congratulatory and generally disappointing.
It is of concern that the evidence presented, and the interpretation given, are not based on rigorous scrutiny."
- And now from the Statistics Commission following a complaint from Transform.
Transform's complaint was made on the basis of our analysis of the statistics in the consultation document Drugs: Our Community, Your Say. You can read this detailed critique in the Transform briefing: Drug policy 1997-2007: the evidence unspun and discussion in the Transform submission to the consultation.
As reported in today's Guardian the complaint has been largely upheld:
Duncan CampbellThe Guardian Monday December 24 2007
Whitehall accused of drugs cover-up· Watchdog asks officials to rethink use of statistics
· Document obscures policy failures, say campaigners
The Home Office has been accused of misusing its statistics on drugs in order to cover up failures in policy. The independent body responsible for providing and assessing government statistics has now asked the Home Office to "carefully consider" its handling of the figures.
In July the Home Office released a consultation paper - Drugs: Our Community, Your Say. It contained a section called "key facts and evidence" in the annexe which put a very positive gloss on the government's policies. Other statistics indicating that the government had failed to achieve its targets were obscured, according to drug reformers. Danny Kushlick, director of the campaigning Transform Drug Policy Foundation, complained to the Statistics Commission. The chairman of the commission, Prof David Rhind, accepted many of his points and has asked the Home Office to explain itself."We think that most people would expect it [the annexe to the document] to provide a balanced presentation of the relevant statistical and other evidence," Rhind said in a letter to Sir David Normington, permanent secretary at the Home Office. "This particular annexe is more like a briefing document. Where a target has been met or exceeded, as is the case with the target to increase participation of problem drug users in treatment programmes, this is highlighted ... but where the target has been missed or seems likely to be missed the relevant information is presented in a low-key way without acknowledging that a target exists."
Rhind added that "issues of public trust in official statistics" have recently been considered by parliament. He has suggested that the Home Office should "carefully consider" the criticisms.
Kushlick said the Home Office's use of statistics was a symptom of the government's refusal to accept that its drugs policy was not working.
The government had failed to achieve its target of reducing class A drug use among young people but failed to mention this, he said.
He added: "One of the outcomes of the government's unwillingness to allow public scrutiny of the overwhelmingly negative outcomes of current policy is that the debate on potential alternatives to prohibition are dismissed as unnecessary and irrelevant. This is despite the 10-year drug strategy delivering almost the exact opposite of its stated goals, costing billions a year, and creating over £100bn more in crime costs over the past decade, according to the government's own figures."
A Home Office spokeswoman said that it had responded to Rhind's letter and stood by the statistics quoted "which are an accurate reflection of current progress with the existing drug strategy".
She added: "The Home Office takes very seriously the need to ensure that we always publish accurate and robust data ... we are making progress in reducing all drug use amongst young and vulnerable people.
"The level of class A drug use has stabilised, and is therefore not increasing. In order to fully meet our target of reducing this class A drug use by young and vulnerable people a cross-government action plan has been developed to improve prevention, education and access to treatment."
here's the complete letter for your reading displeasure:
Its something of a shame that this story emerges only on Christmas Eve when it is unlikely to get much political traction as the drug policy world, with a few sad exceptions like myself, are wrapping presents and basting the turkey.
But the sham consultation is now threatening to cause far more trouble for the Home Office than they evidently hoped to avoid with it in the first place (by shamelessly dressing up the failures of the past decade as success with ridiculously rose-tinted nonsense like Drugs: Our Community , Your Say.)
It should have been called Drugs: Our Propaganda, Your Say* (*will be ignored).
The whole sorry saga looks set to continue into the New Year as the Home Office continue to stubbornly defend their hopelessly misleading cherry picked interpretation of the statistics as the Home Office representative quoted in the Guardian seems determined to do. There have been three highly critical national media stories (two in the Observer and now in Guardian) on this already, and there is much more to come in the New Year (oh yes), not to mention the growing possibility of a Judicial Review forcing the Home Office into the humiliation of having to do the consultation all over again. Properly.
Its all completely unnecessary of course (and I, for one, would much rather be drinking sherry and singing Carols around the piano with my granddad). This isn't about point scoring, its about coming up with effective responses to the drug related problems we face. It doesn't matter what your policy position is in the drugs debate, one thing is absolutely certain: it is in no ones interest to have debate or policy making on the basis of misrepresented data and politically tainted Home Office propaganda. This is one issue on which we should all have a policy of zero tolerance.