Children of Alcoholics

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:58 am on 24th November 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill 10:58 am, 24th November 2015

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the leadership that he has shown on that. Mothers who drink during pregnancy are absolutely included in the asks. I hope that the Government will accelerate the publication of advice for pregnant mums about what it is safe and not safe for expectant mothers to drink.

I want every public health director in England to make an estimate of how many children of alcoholics live locally. I want a local plan to make sure that hospitals, GPs and school nurses and teachers know how to identify the children of alcoholics and how to put help within their reach. The challenge with alcoholism as it relates to children is that it often falls between stools—between the public health director, the commissioning groups for children’s social care, the groups for adult social care, and primary care services. The children of alcoholics often sit in a hole in commissioning, which is why we need a specific plan of action locally.

I want the Government to publish a national league table of which councils are spending what on alcohol treatment, so that it becomes much easier for the public and parliamentarians to see where the problem is greatest. In that way we can challenge whether public health directors, councils and health and wellbeing boards have put in place the right provision for hazardous drinkers who are parents.

I want to make sure we have a public information campaign aimed at parents who are hazardous drinkers, so that they are clear about the damage they do to their children and how they can get help. What has been good about the way in which we talk about smoking is that we now aim our messaging at parents and help them understand the harm to children. Now that alcohol harm is the third biggest public health risk after obesity and smoking, it is time for a public health campaign on the same lines aimed at parents who are hazardous drinkers.

I want the Government to change the law, particularly the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, so that it would be illegal for under-16s to drink at home. Current legislation allows for drinking at home from the age of five, and I think that is the wrong message. I congratulate the coalition of alcohol charities that are preparing proposals on that front.

If the Scottish Government win their case for minimum alcohol pricing, I hope that the Government will look again at introducing that policy across the whole of England. Crucially, every charity and campaign group has said to me that we need far more research into the scale of the problem. The research that we have at the moment is patchy, and I think the Minister could do a great deal with a very small amount of money to make sure we have a good research base in place.

The 10 points that I have mentioned are a framework that parliamentarians can discuss over the weeks and months to come. I hope they are ideas that the Minister will be able to embrace wholeheartedly. If I were to pull out just my top three, however, the proposals would be as follows. First, we should equip front-line professionals to take proactive steps to identify the children of alcoholics and to make sure that they are equipped to advise and counsel children on where they can get help. For me it was absolutely crucial to understand that I was not alone as the child of an alcoholic, that my dad’s drinking was not my fault and that there was not much I could do about it. I want every child of an alcoholic in this country to know that they are not alone and that help, such as the NACOA helpline, is on hand.

My second priority would be the public information campaign. Many people have said to me that the Minister should take inspiration from the success of the public smoking campaigns, and we should gear up quite quickly a campaign aimed at hazardous drinkers who are parents.

Thirdly, we need to make sure that there is the right investment in treatment services up and down the land. We have made great progress over the past few years in putting in place the right budgets for drug treatment. By and large, we now know what works when it comes to alcohol treatment, but provision is patchy. The Minister will tell us that it is down to local authorities to ensure that the right treatment is in place, but right now, we as parliamentarians do not know whether the right treatment is in place. We need transparency so that we can get to grips with where budgets need to go up and where they need to go down.

What is shocking about some of the statistics that I am publishing this morning is that some local authority areas have seen 20%, 30% or 40% increases over the past few years in the number of A&E admissions due to alcohol harm. That tells us there are particular parts of the country where the problem is incredibly pronounced. Behind those statistics are children, which is why we need to know which local authorities are spending what so that we can campaign for better support.