4 April 2017: New figures released today reveal that over 200,000 children in England are living with dependent drinkers who could benefit from receiving specialist alcohol treatment.
The data from Public Health England estimates that there are 600,000 dependent drinkers who would benefit from treatment, yet only just over 100,000 are currently receiving the help they need.
These figures only cover adults who are most seriously dependent on alcohol. It is currently estimated that around 1.5 million adults in England and Wales have some form of alcohol dependence, and that there are 2.5 million children living with an adult drinking at risky levels.[i]
The PHE data is released alongside a report from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) focused on improving the life chances and job prospects of the least well-off. The Department has said it will increase access to grant funding and introduce peer mentors for those in alcohol treatment to help them get back into work.
The report comes at a time when politicians are increasingly recognising the harm cheap alcohol is doing to the most vulnerable in society. The March budget included a consultation on the introduction of a new tax band designed to increase the price of strong white cider, a product which is predominantly consumed by children and heavy drinkers.
And earlier today a report published by the House of Lords Licensing Committee following an enquiry into the operation of the 2003 Licensing Act recognised the damage being done by cheap alcohol. The report calls for the introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol across the UK if it is introduced in Scotland and proves to be successful. Its introduction is being stalled by legal action being taken by sections of the alcohol industry. The report also calls for an end to multi-buy deals such as three for the price of two, a measure which has proved to be successful in Scotland.
Alcohol health experts welcomed the measures announced by the DWP today and the focus on the most vulnerable and lowest paid, pointing to studies which have shown that the least well off are around five times more likely to die from alcohol-related causes than those at the top of the income bracket.[ii]
Experts also called, however, for a wider, population-level approach to improving life and employment opportunities for dependent drinkers alongside greater support for individuals.
Liver physician Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said:
“We welcome the Government’s recognition that cheap alcohol is damaging some of the most vulnerable groups in society. The revelation that 200,000 children in England are living with adults in need of specialist help is deeply worrying. We need to make sure people get the support they need once they have a problem with alcohol, for their own sakes and for the sake of their children. But people don’t set out to become dependent drinkers and we need to stop more people from reaching that stage.
“For the greatest impact, the measures announced today should be combined with measures like minimum unit pricing of alcohol. Studies have shown that setting a minimum price for alcohol would reduce unemployment and bring substantial numbers of unemployed drinkers back into the workforce.[iii]
“The government is already taking steps to tackle alcohol dependence in this broader way, with the recent announcement that it will be consulting on increasing the tax on high-strength ciders, drinks which are known to be drunk by the most vulnerable and do disproportionate harm.
“Studies also indicate that MUP would help address health inequalities, with over 80 per cent of lives saved coming from the lowest income groups.[iv] At the same time, the measure would not increase the price of alcohol sold in pubs and clubs.”
[i] The Children’s Commissioner (2012). Silent Voices: supporting children and young people affected by parental alcohol misuse. Available here.
[ii] Department of Health (May 2012) Written evidence from the Department of Health for the Health Select
Committee. Available here.
[iii] University of Sheffield (2009). Modelling to assess the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of public health related strategies and interventions to reduce alcohol attributable harm in England using the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model version 2 – Report to the NICE Public Health Programme Development Group. Available here.
[iv] Holmes, et al. (2014). Effects of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on different income and socioeconomic groups: a modelling study. The Lancet 383: 1655–64. Available here.