Is it possible to stick a note in a digital bottle and float it out into the ether to find its way to exactly the right drug baron? Maybe. I guess I’m about to find out. It is much more likely of course that I will never have a clue about whether these words reached their destination or not.
So why the rush to open up a line of communication with the upper echelons of the local drugs industry?
Well here’s the thing. We have a situation here.
To start with I need to go back a while. The situation we now have started to take shape when Ian Duncan Smith took to the airwaves to announce the nuts and bolts of his flagship Universal Credit initiative to ‘make work pay!’
Things were clearly about to change.
Right now an unemployed individual basically gets three separate benefits. Once a fortnight, £140 lands in their account in the form of Jobseekers Allowance. That is the cold hard cash that the punter actually sees. But there is more happening behind the scenes. About £400 or so will be electronically transferred into the bank account of their landlord in the form of Housing benefit whilst £70 or so will find its way into the coffers of the local Council to cover Council Tax.
Well everything is about to change in a big way, for the powers that be in the Department of Work and Pensions are keen for British citizens to learn the skills of self reliance. The unemployed will now be required to budget and row their own boats just like all the rest of us.
So how will this look in practice?
Simple. The unemployed will get paid monthly just like they would get paid were they in gainful employment.
So once a month £750 will land in the account and the punter will be required to be organised and sensible. As soon as the money lands, they will be expected to take a couple of hours out from their busy job hunting schedule to head down to the offices of their landlord to pay the rent and then do the same again for the Council tax. They will then carefully weigh up how to make what money is left over to last for a whole month.
It is all very American and I guess the Tea Party must be positively purring. And of course lots and lots of people will do exactly what is expected of them and act like model unemployed citizens.
But others won’t.
And this is basically the thing.
According to the Westminster Government, ‘Our United Kingdom’ (Have you noticed that nobody seems to say ‘Britain’ any more.) is home to about a million and a half ‘Problem Drug Users’. ‘Problem Drug Users’ is a cosy Government-speak way of describing heroin addicts. By now, most of these 'problem drug users' are parked up on long term methadone programmes whereby the NHS issues them with a daily dose of a heroin replacer. Many members of this group describe themselves in rather less glowing terms – they call themselves ‘Giro Junkies’.
So what is the typical profile of one of the million or so ‘Giro Junkies’ who reside in Our United Kingdom?
They will be between 30 and 45 years old and they will have been using drugs ‘problematically’ for over a decade. By now they will have a long criminal record and failing health. Their years of chaotic drug addiction will have had many consequences. Once upon a time they might have been able to shoplift the cash required feed their habit. Not any more. Now they will be banned from every shop in town. Once upon a time they might have been able to blag and bleed their family for cash. No more. Now their families have washed their hands of the black sheep. Once upon a time they might have been able to indulge in some low level drug dealing. No more. The cops know exactly who they are and where they are and more dealing will inevitably mean a five year lump of time in jail.
All nefarious avenues have been closed down. So now they keep body and soul together with a daily visit to the chemist and once a fortnight they draw their cash from the wall and take a day trip to the Nirvana of opiates.
The Drugs Industry has become remarkably adept at getting the lion’s share of the £140 worth of cold hard cash that the DWP electronically transfers into the accounts of the nation’s ‘Giro Junkies’
One million 'problem drug users' will spend about £3 billion a year of this cash with the Drugs Industry.
It meant that the minute Ian Duncan Smith sat himself back down on his green bench having filled us in on the nuts and bolts of Universal Credit, the smart guys of the Drugs Industry were already licking their lips in anticipation of a new Klondike.
Of course they were.
For the million ‘Problem Drug Users’ of Our United Kingdom were about to be handed an additional £5 billion a year.
Now that kind of cash gets a whole bunch of beachside villas in Antigua.
Well, the Drugs Industry is nothing if not efficient. It is why it remains the third biggest industry on Our Planet Earth despite the ferocious prohibitionist efforts of 45 years worth of the War on Drugs. (Only oil and weapons are bigger by the way.)
So the smart guys realised that they would have to be quick on their feet were they to get their hands on the new bonanza.
In the summer of 2013, it was announced that Dumfries and Galloway was going to be one of the four regions in Scotland which were granted guinea pig status for road testing the new Universal Credit system. With weeks of the announcement, an extraordinary drug war broke out in North West Dumfries as a gang from Glasgow and a gang from Liverpool fought it out for control of the local smack trade.
Now why on earth would they do that?
Because North West Dumfries is home to 500 or so ‘problem drug users’ and on average their monthly housing benefit is £400.
A nice, cool million a year. So on one side of the coin, the DWP wanted to use Dumfries and Galloway as a guinea pig region to learn how to hand the money out. One the other side of the coin, the Drugs Industry wanted to use Dumfries and Galloway as a guinea pig region to learn how to get their mits on as much of the new cash as possible.
I wrote a blog about it. You can find it by following this link
In the end the whole thing was a damp squib. The DWP computers couldn’t get their act together and everything was postponed. It turned out the lads from Glasgow and Liverpool had fought it out for nothing and everyone licked their wounds and went home.
Months passed and new dates came and were duly postponed as the DWP computer had one nervous breakdown after another.
Until finally a new date was settled on. April 2015. A new financial year. A new dawn. A brave new world.
And suddenly there were new whispers to be heard at our reception desk as we handed out food parcels. There are strangers in the town. Strangers from Liverpool and Manchester and Glasgow. And all of a sudden there is more smack about than there has been in years and years. And the new faces are offering every man and his dog £400 of gear on tick. It’s because of the……
You’ve got it.
It’s because of the new Universal Credit. Klondike is here and Klondike is now and the bad boys from the big cities are staking out their claims.
But then on Friday we had the Universal Credit expert from the local Citizens Advice office call round to bring us up to speed about how the much delayed rollout would look in the flesh.
And a bombshell was duly dropped.
Citizens Advice have been working closely with the local Job Centre and not surprisingly the local Job Centre are worried that the DWP computers might throw yet another nervous breakdown.
So they have decided to take it slow.
So only new single claimants are to get a taste of Ian Duncan Smith’s brave new world. By their estimates, only 7 individuals a month in the whole of Dumfries and Galloway will draw Universal Credit. And this will remain the case until at least January.
Which basically means that we have a situation here.
Right now there are bad lads from Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow doling out £400 worth of heroin on the never-never to any ‘Giro Junkie’ they can find. They are like a bit like the Sky reps in the supermarket with their introductory offers. And the terms and conditions are crystal clear. ‘Use now, Pay later’. Pay next month. Pay when that nice fat payment lands in your account care of the DWP.
Except there will be no nice fat payments because by the time we get to next month there will only be seven people in the whole of Dumfries and Galloway in receipt of the new Klondike treasure and the odds are that they will never have looked at a bag of smack in their lives.
The people at the top of the drugs trade are smart cookies and they don’t tend to get much wrong. But they have got this one wrong.
Unlike First Base, they have not been able to fix an appointment to get a briefing from Citizens Advice. Instead they have allowed their strategy to be governed by official Government releases which have proved to be little more that pre-election pipe dreams.
In a perfect world, the bad boys will shrug their shoulders and accept they have made a mistake and make nice with all the punters they have persuaded to sign up to their ‘Use now, Pay later’ deal.
But our world is a long way short of perfect.
These lads pride themselves on never, ever letting anyone off a debt and they can get pretty damned nasty when it comes to recovering any outstanding cash. They tend to prefer the baseball bat approach to the solicitor’s letter approach.
So what needs to happen as quickly as possible now is for the word to be passed along the chain to the fellows calling the shots that Dumfries and Galloway is not Klondike yet.
It won’t be Klondike for months and months and months.
Maybe even years.
So for Christ’s sake pick up the phone and close down the ‘Use now, Pay later’ offer before things get completely out of hand.
This is the kind of odd situation that First Base finds itself in from time to time. In many ways we are a bridge that links on world with another. One world is the so called normal world where the main players are Tesco and Amazon and the rules are overseen by the police and the council and the courts. In the other world the main players are the Drugs Industry, pimps, fences and loan sharks and the rules are enforced by the guys with the hard eyes and the hard bats.
We are expected at times to act as a kind of middle man. If some potentially lethal drugs have landed a few unfortunates in A&E, the authorities will give us a description to feed into the land behind the looking glass. Similarly when something really bad is going down in the lower world, we are sometimes asked to summon the cavalry from the upper world to ride in with all guns blazing.
To be honest it is a moral maze at times. Basically we work on the basis of never ever passing on a name to anyone. Ever. Unless of course someone is facing a clear and present danger to life and limb.
In practice it works pretty well. The local cops would never dream of asking us for a name for were we ever to give one, nobody would ever come near us again.
Hopefully this means that when a car crash like this ‘Use now, Pay later’ fiasco comes around we can maybe do something about it.
Our local paper ‘The Standard’ seems keen to run the story as do the BBC. We have passed the word out via a few likely lads and with luck this blog will wander around the ether until it finds it way to guys calling the shots.
If by any chance you are one of those guys, knock it on the head. Klondike ain’t even close.
This front line charity lark can be a funny old game at times!