When will the major parties take harm reduction seriously?

Andy Briggs

August 23, 2018

Last week, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report into e-cigarettes and their usefulness in reducing smoking rates in the UK. While supporters of liberal approaches to harm reduction took it as a welcome respite, it remains unlikely that the Government will take the recommendations on board. Despite being backed up by a weight of evidence, policies such as drug legalisation or the decriminalisation of sex work have little to no support within the Government, and there’s nothing to suggest that a momentous shift is about to occur.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that a Conservative government does not buy into liberal arguments for the policies above: that consenting adults should be free to do as they wish with their own bodies. Yet, what is most disheartening about this is the determination to ignore the basic fact that these policies will save both money and lives. Instead, the Government seeks to cling onto what increasingly appears to be outdated ideas on morality, with politicians taking decisions over an individual’s life out of blatant paternalism.

For all their supposed “progressive” and “radical” credentials, the Labour Party is no better either. Their manifesto in 2017 lacked any mention of reducing harm through legalisation or decriminalisation. Interviews Jeremy Corbyn has given on the subject provide little comfort, with him failing to commit to the legalisation of cannabis, and backing the dangerous “Nordic Model” approach to sex work that forces sex workers to operate in the shadows.

All in all, the only UK political party with a credible approach to harm reduction is the Liberal Democrats. While their commitment to economic liberty may, at times, be questionable (something Liberal Reform is always seeking to improve), the Lib Dems’ approach to individual liberty is far more convincing, backing both the legalisation of cannabis and the decriminalisation of sex work. It is perhaps no surprise too that the current chair of the House of Commons committee behind the recent e-cigarette report is Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb.

When it comes to harm reduction, the major parties could do far worse than take a leaf out of the Liberal Democrats’ book – if not for the sake of individual liberty then for the safety of our citizens along with the country’s economic prosperity. As voters, particularly younger generations, become increasingly liberal in their outlook, there is both little to fear and a lot to be gained by following this course of action. 

A recent YouGov poll suggested that 43% of the UK public support the legalisation of cannabis – a policy that would not only lead to safer streets as crime rates fall but also, according to the TaxPayers’ Alliance, it would save the taxpayer £900 million a year.

Indeed, as pointed out by Daniel Pryor of the Adam Smith Institute, reliable research on the decriminalisation of sex work is harder to come by, but what is clear is that an increasing amount of sex workers themselves back the policy (see for example the work of SWARM) as the best method of staying safe and being able to assert their human and workers rights. 

If you combine these facts with the Science & Technology Committee report on e-cigarettes it becomes increasingly clear that we are due a harm reduction revolution. Unfortunately, the major parties appear too timid to deliver; as with so much in UK politics at the moment, we deserve so much better.


  • Andy Briggs

    Andy Briggs is a board member of Liberal Reform, a pressure group within the Liberal Democrats campaigning for social, personal, political and economic liberalism.

Written by Andy Briggs

Andy Briggs is a board member of Liberal Reform, a pressure group within the Liberal Democrats campaigning for social, personal, political and economic liberalism.


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