Austerity policies leaving poorest communities vulnerable

Successive government policies have damaged the country’s poorest communities and undermined local structures to combat the drugs crisis, according to new research.

The report said power has been removed from affected areas and centralised at government level, where the system is “utterly disconnected” from the needs of people and communities.

It said austerity “exacerbated” the problem by cutting funding to education, health, housing and welfare supports, local drug task- forces as well as community and voluntary groups.

The study said that since drug taskforces were set up in 1997 they have operated under four departments, eight ministers, eight major drug strategies, had undergone eight evaluations and reviews of their own effectiveness and, since 2008, “year on year” budget cuts.

The report, ‘Outcomes: Drug Harms, Policy Harms, Poverty and Inequality’, highlights the wider use of cannabis weed, tranquillisers, and hypnotics and the ensnaring of some young people as “runners and delivery boys” for dealers.

The research team was led by Aileen O’Gorman, a senior lecturer in Alcohol and Drug Studies at the University of West Scotland, and formerly of UCD.

The study, commissioned by the Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol Task Force, said that drug-related ‘harms’ consistently cluster in communities marked by poverty and social inequality.

“The origins of poverty and inequality do not arise from the actions of people or communities, they derive from the politics, policies and structural violence of the state,” said the report.

It said drug policy in Ireland has become focused on addressing “individual drug using behaviour” and drug-related crime rather than the underlying issues of poverty and inequality and even less attention is paid to the outcomes of policy.

“The austerity policies introduced in the wake of the great recession have exacerbated the existing structural deficiencies in our society by cutting funding to education, health, housing, and welfare supports and to the Drug and Alcohol Task Forces and community, voluntary and statutory services that support vulnerable groups,” the study said.

It said that policies have resulted in a “drawing back of power from communities” and a recentralisation of power within government administration.

It said the public management system was focused on measuring outputs, effectiveness, and value for money — “all utterly disconnected from the needs of people and communities”.

The core part of the research was an examination of the Clondaklin task- force area in west Dublin.

It said that the area was home to a disproportionate number of people experiencing poverty, with a trebling in unemployment in the first three years of recession.

The large area covers newly middle-class estates in south Clondalkin, Lucan, and Palmerstown and mass social housing estates in the likes of Neilstown, Bawnogue, and Ronanstown.

In the latter areas, unemployment was 35% to 45% , lone-parent households made up 42% to 64% and educational disadvantage stood at 45% to 64%.

It said the quality of life was further affected by open drug markets and drug- related violence, with drug debts one of the main causes. The study said the high level of suicides among young people in the area was of “immense concern”.

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