On 25 November, a debate about alcohol harm took place in Westminster.
The debate highlighted:
- Alcohol causes significant harm to individuals, families and our society.
- Alcohol harm escalated during the pandemic.
- Effective policies to reduce alcohol harm and protect children and vulnerable people include decreasing alcohol’s affordability and restricting alcohol marketing.
Derek Thomas MP, who led the debate, stressed the urgency of the problem, stating that we are already at “crisis point” when it comes to alcohol harm and called on the Government to urgently introduce an alcohol strategy.
Thomas went on to explain how the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the problem of alcohol harm.
He said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated alcohol harm in the UK. Deaths from alcohol increased by 20% in England and Wales and by 17% in Scotland in 2020, being at the highest level since records began. In England, the number of adults drinking at high-risk nearly doubled between February and June 2020. The data also show a rapid acceleration in deaths from alcoholic liver disease since the start of the pandemic, beyond that of the pre-existing upward trend.”
He went on to call for better funding for treatment, stating that 73% of dependent drinkers in his constituency were currently not in treatment.
“The Government must commit to increasing treatment funding and maintaining this funding so that everyone who seeks support is able to receive it,” Thomas said, “The Dame Carol Black Independent Review of Drugs called for additional funding of £1.78bn for drug and alcohol treatment services over the next five years. The Government must act on this now. Additionally, there must also be a commitment to increasing the numbers of the addiction treatment workforce.”Derek Thomas MP
Liam Byrne MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Children of Alcoholics Group spoke passionately about the importance of breaking the silence around alcohol addiction in order to “break the cycle of the disease cascading down any more generations to come.”
I grew up knowing all the feelings that every child of an alcoholic becomes all too familiar with: trying to make yourself invisible to disappear from the shame of some terrible public incident; the chronic insecurity; the co-dependency of supporting others, in my case, my mother, from the age of eight; the bouts of violence, luckily, in my case, occasional; the hospital visits; and the trouble with ambulances. There is the pervasive sense of guilt. Am I doing enough? Is my father okay? Is he eating? Is he starving? Or is he on a floor somewhere?Liam Byrne MP
Duncan Baker MP said that: “Tackling alcohol misuse will require a multi-pronged approach and an essential part of that is investing in programmes that address alcohol harm.”
Health consequences aside, its harmful use can bring with it many socioeconomic losses to individuals and wider society. It is therefore paramount that we address alcohol misuse and work collaboratively to mitigate that sad and perennial problem in our society.Duncan Baker MP
Martyn Day MP spoke about alcohol harm in Scotland, which he said has “a long-standing and problematic relationship with alcohol.”
Day said that although many matters related to tackling alcohol harm had been devolved to Scotland, some aspects, such as TV advertising, are currently reserved to the UK Government. In order to protect children and young people from alcohol advertising, Scotland would be “pressing the UK Government for a 9 pm watershed on alcohol TV adverts—as they have consulted on for high fat, sugar and salt in foods—and under-18 films at cinemas.”
Alex Norris MP, Shadow Public Health Minister, said that cuts to services has meant that many people seeking treatment have not received it.
Due to these resource cuts, alcohol treatment providers have reduced their offer to try to make sure that they can see as many people as possible. Currently, there are just six NHS in-patient detox units operating in the entirety of the UK, with fewer than 100 beds in total.Alex Norris MP
He went on to say that Labour supports having more information on alcohol labels in order for consumers to have “consistent, high-quality information” available on the products they buy and drink.
In response, Maggie Throup, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said the Government have agreed to carry forward the recommendations of part two of Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs and will publish a drug strategy later this year which “will also benefit people seeking treatment for alcohol dependency”.
As part of the long-term plan, we have provided national funding to support the implementation of specialist alcohol care teams in the 25% of hospitals with the highest rates of alcohol dependence-related admissions.Maggie Throup
A transcript of the debate is available here.