When Nick Clegg and Richard Branson urged a rethink of British drugs laws this week, the main dissenting voice was the Centre for Social Justice, the influential right-wing think tank. They released a striking survey on the topic, which the Guardian (and other major outlets) quoted at length.
…But the Centre for Social Justice, a charity closely associated with the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, claimed charities on the front line in the struggle against drug addiction are opposed to decriminalisation. In recent CSJ research, nearly three-quarters of charities surveyed were concerned about the effect cannabis use had on their clients and families. More than half (56%) felt the decriminalisation of cannabis would lead to an increase in its use. Less than a quarter (23%) thought it would not.
I asked the guy who does PR for the CSJ who the “charities on the front line” were. He said they were all members of the CSJ’s Alliance Charity network. But:
“The CSJ don’t publish the full list of their charity members, but I will see if I can get hold of a few more of the names.”
I said it’s quite hard to report the survey and its striking results without knowing who was being asked. He asked me if five or six of the names would be enough. The widely quoted statement had referred to “over 100 charities”, so I said not really. He came back later and said the charities sign up to become Alliance members on the basis of anonymity (there’s a bit of info about what kind of charities join the Alliance here.)
Hours later, they sent me four names: Manna House (a Christian homelessness charity in Cumbria), Twenty Twenty (a Christian youth group in the Midlands, which was quoted in the original statement), the Exaireo Trust (a Christian homelessness rehab charity in Leicestershire who offer, among other things, “drug and alcohol related support”) and SASS (who offer addiction support in Sheffield).
No more names were forthcoming. Eventually I asked if the CSJ could at least name the categories the charities involved in the poll into fell into – because we might take their views on drugs more seriously if they are mainly, say, addiction clinics than if they are food banks. The email chain stopped.
I normally find the phenomenon of journalists mocking bogus-looking press release surveys a bit tedious. But the CSJ is a think tank which proclaims to be independent and rigorous. And the decriminalisation of drugs is one of the most delicate and highly contested policy issues around.
Also quoted in the news reports was the CSJ director Christian Guy’s take on the survey:
“Politicians need to listen to these experts. They are the people who witness the devastating impact of drugs in our poorest neighbourhoods day in, day out.”
That may be true, but it seems odd that we aren’t allowed to know who these experts are.