MPs debate tackling alcohol harm

On 17 March, a debate about tackling alcohol harm took place in Westminster.

The debate highlighted a number of stark statistics about alcohol harm including:

  • More than 80 people die every day in the UK because of alcohol-related causes
  • Alcohol is now the leading risk factor for death, ill-health and disability amongst 15-49-year-olds in England
  • Alcohol is associated with around 40% of violent crime

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Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, who proposed the debate, said: “While our culture celebrates alcohol, we are silent about its harms. All too often we stigmatise people dealing with the consequences of harmful alcohol consumption, or leave them to cope with those consequences alone.”

Ms Bruce took the opportunity of speaking at the debate to call for an alcohol harms strategy.

The UK has not had an alcohol strategy since the now-outdated 2012 strategy, despite wide-ranging evidence of the harms alcohol causes.

Ms Bruce said: “In my local authority of Cheshire East, there have been 185 alcohol-related deaths in 2017 and 8,460 hospital admissions. However, the number that sticks out most, is the number of people who are lacking help: 88% of dependent drinkers in Cheshire East are not in treatment and do not get the support they need.”

Kenny MacAskill, MP for East Lothian, said: “The issues [around alcohol harm] remain universal and how we tackle them. It is about affordability, it is about availability and it is about advertising.”

Patricia Gibson, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, pointed to evidence emerging from Scotland about the effectiveness of minimum unit pricing (MUP).

Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, added: “We should be clear here – the issue of alcohol related harm is not ringfenced to those with alcoholism nor to a specific age group. It’s a UK-wide, class-wide, gender-wide, race-wide problem that needs to be addressing.”

He went on to say: “It is for this reason that I support the call of the Alcohol Health Alliance for minimum unit pricing. The cheaper alcohol is, the more people drink it and the more harm it causes.”

Liz Twist, MP for Blaydon, added: “I want to be clear that to resolve this issue, we should not simply point the finger at individuals; this is a public health issue and it must be tackled as such. For many people, it is linked to poverty, poor social conditions and lack of opportunity, so we need to take a holistic approach to resolving it, and minimum unit pricing is one element of that approach.”

Justin Madders, MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, pointed to three areas where change to legislation was needed to tackle alcohol harm.

Helen Whately, Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care, responded for the government, outlining actions already taken and saying that there are no plans currently to implement MUP in England, however they will continue to monitor the evidence from Scotland and Wales.

Commenting on the introduction of MUP in England, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance has previously stated: “It is time for Westminster to step up and prove it takes our nation’s health seriously by implementing MUP as a matter of urgency.”

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