A UK Government minister responsible for drug laws has been criticised for claiming that poverty is not driving Scotland’s drug death crisis and taking a “condescending” attitude to MSPs.
Kit Malthouse, who is responsible for crime and policing for the UK Government, told MSPs that he did not believe that poverty is an underlying cause of drug use and should be tackled in order to halt Scotland being the drug deaths capital of Europe.
Mr Malthouse has also come under fire for appearing to equate drug use with violence.
Scotland recorded 1,339 drug deaths in 2020 – the worst annual number on record.
The data from the National Records of Scotland revealed that “people in the most deprived areas were 18 times as likely to have a drug-related death as those in the least deprived areas”.
The study found that the ratio has almost doubled in the space of 20 years.
In the early 2000s, those in the most deprived areas were around 10-times as likely to have a drug-related death as those in the last deprived areas.
Mr Malthouse said that “drugs and violence drive poverty, not that poverty drives them”.
He added: “There are lots and lots of people who live in deprived areas who do not take drugs and who are not violent and yet the drugs and violence in their areas hold them back.
“My view is that if you can remove the drugs and remove the violence, generally, communities and neighbourhoods fly.
“Often, we are guilty of trying to solve the poverty and the deprivation—and we should try to do that as well, there is a moral obligation to do that too—and thinking that that will somehow mean that there will be fewer drugs and less violence. That does not follow.”
Mr Malthouse also told MSPs that there were several legal and practical issues in bringing forward safe consumption rooms, despite the Scottish Government keen to pursue the policy and stressed the importance of the justice system as opposed to the Scottish Government’s stance to treat the drug deaths crisis as a health emergency.
Greens MSP Gillian Mackay has criticised the comments.
She said: “Mr Malthouse’s appearance in front of MSPs was a strange affair.
“The minister’s condescending attitude in response to questions typifies the Tory Government’s attitude to devolution.”
She added: “His comments ranged from ill-informed to insulting. He was utterly unwilling to contemplate that poverty was an underlying issue that needed to be tackled to support communities. And he refused to listen to evidence about tackling drug deaths as a public health issue.”
Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for drug policy, Claire Baker, said: “This is disappointing from the Conservative minister, but should not be insurmountable to the delivery of safe consumption rooms.
“Scottish Labour are very clear- people should be able to access the treatment they need, when they need it.
“The Lord Advocate has indicated that she can consider a proposal for safe consumption rooms, therefore, we see want to see real action from the SNP government in delivering a package of harm reduction policies.
“Every death from drugs is a tragedy. We will always support action that seeks to put an end to this suffering.”
SNP Drugs Policy Minister, Angela Constance, said “it’s no secret” that she and Mr Malthouse have “differing views” on aspects of policy and ideology.
She added: “I do very much recognise the role and relationship of poverty and other matters in relation to this.
“There’s been a lot written and published about the impact of very concentrated levels of poverty and social deprivation.”