Recovery Festival

A speech by the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP


It is a pleasure to be here today.

I’d like to start by thanking the Recovery Partnership for organising today’s festival…

… and also to express my gratitude to Noreen Oliver.

Noreen is a remarkable woman who has single-handedly changed the debate - focusing it on setting people free from their drug and alcohol addiction and on the path to a better life…

… rather than just maintaining individuals in dependency.

It is a real inspiration to see today’s Recovery Festival championing the same approach…

… uniting politicians of all hues, alongside charity workers, top employers, and even celebrities… in support for giving recovering addicts a second chance.

A waste of potential

For too long, I think, where people are suffering from addiction, we as a society have focused on containing the problem…  managing the symptoms rather than treating it at its source.

In my area of interest - the welfare system - there is clear evidence of this.

There are around 100,000 people claiming sickness benefits whose illness is primarily down to their drug or alcohol addiction.

Of these, a staggering 23,000 have been claiming incapacity benefits for a decade or more…

…. many unseen for that entire duration… no one checking whether their health has changed, or might improve if they were to engage with treatment.

It cannot be right that people suffering from addiction are simply written off on benefits, all too often, without any belief that their life could change.

Turning things around

The work of Bac O’Connor, and other organisations like it, shows that nothing could be further from the reality.

Visiting a rehab centre some years ago, I met an ex-prisoner who had been a serious drug user - whose story was a source of real inspiration.

He told me:

I was, until I recovered, a one-man crime wave in my area. Every day was spent figuring out what house to burgle… how I could get money to feed my drug habit… essentially, how I could survive, just kicking along.

I did it”, he told me,”for 20 years. God knows he said how many places I robbed, how many people I hurt, trying to steal their property or their money… how degraded I became. I was arrested endlessly, I was charged, I was let lose again, I was in prisons, I was out of prisons.

Until finally I went through this programme to get off my drug addiction altogether - and that was what turned things around.

By addressing the root cause of the problem - tackling the addiction itself - he had finally broken free from a life of crime.

When I met him he was seeing his children for the first time in years, putting what mattered to him into perspective.

The help and support offered whilst in rehab was playing a vital part - but I was also struck by the man’s strength of character and conviction…

… his determination to take control of his own life and do something positive with it.

Ending stigma

Strength, conviction, determination.

Not necessarily three words you would use to describe someone with a history of substance abuse and crime.

Yet for an individual in recovery, these characteristics are precisely what is required of them if they are to maintain their motivation… make positive choices… and overcome adversity.

In taking steps to address their addiction, individuals gain valuable knowledge… both about themselves, and about how to deal with and understand their impact on others…

… which can readily be applied in other aspects of their life.

In fact, there is much to suggest that recovered addicts can make for extremely motivated, loyal and committed employees…

… all the more grateful for the opportunity to work because it offers a highly valuable opportunity to stay on track…

… whilst bringing tenacity, drive and dedication to the job - a set of skills that employers might otherwise struggle to find.

Managing the risk

Sadly, too often, this talent has been left untapped.

Potential employers have been put off by the misconception that employing people who have been through rehab is overly risky.

Ironically, research suggests that this stigma itself can negatively affect people’s chances of recovery.

The reality is that, yes, there is a risk involved for employers.

But that is true of taking on any new employee.

What’s more, with the help of the treatment sector, the Government is taking important measures to minimise any uncertainty around employing a recovered addict.

Just a few words to explain how.

Focusing on recovery

We have already started changing how the state supports people with an addiction…

… with promising signs that the right interventions can have a positive effect.

Since 2005, the proportion of drug and alcohol users successfully going through treatment AND not returning, has increased by around a quarter.

This is real progress, but we must do more to improve these outcomes further still.

The Government’s Drug and Alcohol Strategy sets out our commitment to prioritise full recovery, meaning freedom from dependence on drugs and alcohol.

This is crucial.

For if the outcomes are to be sustainable, recovery must be about getting clean - rather than just bringing someone’s addiction under control…

abstinence instead of maintenance.

No one knows this better than Noreen, and others here today.

Bac O’Connor have advocated this approach for years…

… but we are now starting to see it put into practice across the treatment sector.

Holistic approach

We are also promoting a broader, more holistic approach to recovery…

… recognising that the problems faced by drug and alcohol users are often interlinked and overlapping.

Alongside someone’s addiction, we must address the other issues that hold individuals back, limiting their capacity to improve their own life.

That is why we are taking steps to join up different support services and treat problems together.

Take the 8 pilot programmes launched last year, where we are incentivising treatment providers to identify and address a whole range of social problems.

Paying them not just for helping someone break free from drugs and alcohol…

… but also for the outcomes they achieve in terms of preventing re-offending, getting people off the streets, and improving their overall quality of life.

For someone going through rehab, the value of these positive changes cannot be underestimated.

Having a stable family life… a safe place to live… good overall health… and feelings of self-worth…

… all these are vital in supporting a full and lasting recovery.

Importance of work

Yet there is one final step in the recovery journey - perhaps the most important of all.

If we are serious about making a sustainable difference to people’s lives… moving from dependency to independence… then work is the best stepping stone to doing so.

Earning a wage can help in itself - helping get on top of problem debt, for example, or in terms of the opportunities it brings.

Even something as simple as earning a holiday can make a big difference to normal family life, where insecurity had previously prevailed.

The money earned through work is a big step towards individuals regaining control over their own lives, making a contribution and having a sense of achievement.

But more than that, work itself is a vital component in our daily lives - it shapes us, develops us, and helps us create friends and sense of belonging.

The money we earn gives us choices, and the work we do helps us to develop, so we can make the most of those choices.

Put simply, having a job is one of the best ways for individuals to find a foothold in society again - and stay there.

Given the transformative effect it can have, we must do all we can to help those who are able, to move into work.

Work Programme

For people who are a long way from the workplace, who lack skills or the work habit… who have been through rehab or recently released from prison…

… that means addressing the barriers that hold them back, giving them the best prospects of securing a job.

That is what the Work Programme is all about.

I know you have already heard today from Stuart Vere, Chairman of Avanta - one of our Work Programme providers - but I just want to reiterate why this is so important.

Through the Work Programme, we have tasked the best organisations in the voluntary and private sectors with delivering personalised employment support for the hardest to help individuals.

As part of this, we have launched two pilots programmes specifically targeted at supporting drug and alcohol addicted claimants into work.

The ‘Recovery Works’ pilot will test the impact of higher job outcome payments for individuals engaged in drugs treatment - offering a financial incentive to support addicts into rehab AND into work.

The other - ‘Recovery and Employment’ - is about promoting cooperation between providers and the treatment experts, with better sharing of existing knowledge and resources.

Work readiness

But in both **cases, because we are focused on **long-term outcomes, paying for the results achieved in sustaining people in work for two years…

… providers must make sure that individuals are ready to move into work and stay there.

Whether through getting clean… engaging in training or education… gaining work experience… or building confidence…

… in the process, individuals are given a real opportunity to rebuild their own lives. 

Just last month I visited the Brink restaurant in Liverpool, an excellent social enterprise putting all this into action - and which I believe is represented here today.

As well as providing a space where people can meet and socialise, the Brink also acts as a recovery hub, bringing together a wide range of different services.

It is a venue for fellowship groups to run sessions… it has onsite counselling and referrals… and importantly, it offers employment advice and support - delivered by both Action on Addiction and a local employment agency.

The majority of the staff are recovered addicts themselves, with work experience opportunities for others like them…

… giving individuals in recovery a sense of self-respect… helping them to understand and cope with the pressures of a job… ultimately, getting them ready for the world of work.

What’s more, all the profits go directly back into the community, in turn funding rehab programmes for those still battling with addiction.

Supply and demand

Nothing illustrates better our vision for change - restoring hope and stability to those previously left on the margins, giving them a chance to turn their lives around.

As I have said, within Government and the treatment sector, we are already making progress.

Yet I believe there are two sides to the process.

In a scenario very familiar to the businessmen and women here today, it is a question of supply and demand.

By getting and keeping addicts clean, equipping them with the skills and experience they need, and helping them to establish a stable life…

… we are ensuring that individuals are prepared, willing and able to move into work.

So there is a highly motivated, highly determined supply of labour.

What now remains is the demand side.

We need employers - of all sizes and from across different industries - who are willing to take on recovered addicts…

… able to look beyond someone’s past and see their skills and aptitude now…

…. and their loyalty and potential for the future.

That is what today’s Recovery Festival is all about.

Challenging the preconceptions around employing people who have been through rehab…

… opening employers’ eyes to the possibilities…

… encouraging demand.

Through offering work placements and opening up job vacancies to recovered addicts, you stand to gain from the knowledge and talent that they can bring to the workplace…

… confronting widespread prejudice, and giving individuals a real chance to get on in life.


At a time when consumers have never been more demanding…

… looking at the quality and value, not just of the goods and services they’re buying, but also the quality and value of the companies themselves….

… I believe this offers a real opportunity to set yourselves apart.

To prove that you’re different…

… that you care about your community, just as your care about your business…

… building your workforce, and rebuilding lives at the same time.

Published 12 March 2013