N is for Neoliberalism, Substance Abuse and Social Justice



Big word but what does it mean and how is it relevant to social justice, substance abuse and the A – Z Challenge.  I’ll start with the last in the list which is the A – Z Challenge that takes place once a year during the month of April.  This is the first year I have participated in this challenge and probably one of the more strenuous exercises of brain gym I’ve done in a while.  I decided to focus on a topic close to my heart and my work that is with parents, who have young children, where the parental substance use has affected their ability to care for their children, or themselves at times.

Social justice is everyone’s job and everyone is skilled and sufficiently equipped to further the cause in minimising inequalities, injustices and marginalisation of those on the lower rungs of the social ladder.  If you can talk you can advocate.  Yes you can and I bet you do it in more ways than you realise.  Have you ever stepped in when someone is being treated unfairly?  Well then, you’ve advocated on their behalf for a more just and fair way of being treated.  The examples are endless and if you sit and think about it for five minutes you will come up with more evidence than you give yourself credit for.

I work in an outreach setting which means I am about in the community and experiencing the blunt end of policies made by the boffins in glass buildings living hundreds of kilometres from the guts of the situation.  I am passionate about my work but until this challenge have not written about the effect of policy on my clients.

Blue FaceNeoliberalism is the modern politico-economic theory that worships at the feet of free trade, privatisation, minimal government intervention in business, and reduced public expenditure on social services.  It started somewhere in the 1970s and has, like the bad moon, been rising since.  Technological advances and the development of the world wide web have brought the world to our front door and with it a world market dominated by multinational companies.  As multinationals have come to town the capacity of national governments has diminished so they struggle now to control their country’s economic and political direction.  This process of enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely as a result of deregulation and improved communications, has been emerging since the 1980.  It goes by the name of globalisation.

The primary role of government within the neoliberal context is to promote individual property rights and enterprise through unrestricted free markets.  Deconstructed it places the individual endeavour above that of community and personal freedom, while justice and human dignity are framed in terms of pursuing profit within a deregulated marketplace.  Individuals who have adequate education, personal skills and access to health services to support their endeavours do well in this system which relishes self-responsibility and independence at all costs.  However for those who have slipped through the education system, for whatever reason, and now find themselves competing in the labour market with thousands of others similarly unskilled workers it can be a depressing existence.

Social policy has shifted from the post war consensus that natural resources belonged to the citizens of the state and where public services were initiated and controlled by the government to enhance the welfare of the people.  During those times of collective public ownership relatively low levels of substance dependency were evident.  Government services monitored treatment options for those seeking help to address their drug use.

The move from collectivism to individualism that has eroded the social contract (a decent life for everyone from the cradle to Helpthe grave) has created an environment of structural inequality that has increased the gap between the rich and the poor.  This gap has steadily widened since the 1970s – the early days of neoliberalism.   Withdrawing drug treatment, through budget cuts,  has forced this community underground and criminalised individuals who were once happy to seek help.  Their desire to become well and ‘clean up their act’ was supported by health services paid for by the collective.

Not to paint too grim a picture there are some remaining services.  However, the number of services that are government funded is reducing all the time.  As welfare funding across the board essentially ends in June this year the entire community service sector (in Australia) is up for grabs through a process of tender.  Is this the point that private enterprise takes over treatment centres and those able to afford to get well and those that can’t remain unwell to become more marginalised and bound in the substance abuse behaviours?  What happens then?

Social policy driven by neoliberal ideology is reluctant to accept collective responsibility to reduce the harm caused by punitive drug strategies that contribute to social exclusion.  Central to recovery from addiction is secure housing, long term employment and access to appropriate services.  All these elements are freely available to those able to afford them.  How do you afford to purchase services?  By being able to participate in the work place.

Is it just me or is there a Catch-22 going on here?

3 thoughts on “N is for Neoliberalism, Substance Abuse and Social Justice

  1. This idea of neoliberalism takes the form of Libertarianism in the US. They want to abolish most government services and have people pay for things themselves. They claim regulation stifles creativity, but they do not seem concerned that it might keep a business from putting out a bad product. I see many veterans who end up homeless, they are a large part of our homeless area locally, and there is a diminished number of social services that can actually help them.


  2. Excellent blog entry, Linda.
    I so agree with you about the change from community to individualism. It is the same as saying, “I’m all right, Jack – bugger off the rest of you!”
    It really gets my blood boiling that this neoliberal ideology is so destructive – of both individuals and community.
    Keep it going girl! 🙂


    • It is destructive but surely we can’t be the only two with our eyes open? I hope I can maintain the pace, it’s a bit hectic around here at times. Thank you for visiting again 🙂


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