Russell Brand and Jonathan Ashworth MP discuss COAs at ‘Breaking the Cycle’ event

Nacoa were invited by Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth and comedian Russell Brand to attend the World Transformed Festival event focused on the harms of substance abuse, ‘Breaking the Habit’.

The event covered a host of topics, including the legal status of narcotic drugs, how people suffering with addiction can be encouraged into recovery, and the place of government in facilitating help and supporting people with addiction problems and their families.

Following from his brave and impassioned speeches in the Houses of Parliament over the last year, Jonathan Ashworth spoke movingly about his experiences as a child growing up with a father who had a drink problem that ultimately claimed his life.

Like so many children who have chaotic experiences with a parent who drinks too much, Ashworth speaks about his father with a certain amount of pain, but a great deal of love and admiration:

‘He was an intelligent man. He read books. He was socialist and he could have contributed so much. He would say to me “you have achieved so much, you’ve done well, you’ve gone to university”. He would say “it doesn’t matter about me I’m just a bloke from Salford”. I would say you can do these things and you can get involved. That waste of potential really hits home to me and that’s why we need to do something about it.”

Ashworth sensitively described how as a child his father would arrive to pick him up from school intoxicated from alcohol, and would arrive home to find a fridge empty of food. Like so many children affected by a parent’s drinking, he says, ‘Alcoholism has always been there throughout my life.’

Ashworth and Brand applauded the work Nacoa has done over 27 years, helping children growing up with a parent who drinks too much. Recalling how a five year old caller regularly phoned the Nacoa helpline for bedtime stories when her parent’s were ‘too drunk to do so’, Ashworth recognised the crucial value of a national helpline, and said:

‘Nacoa is a tremendous charity, and we need charities like Nacoa to get national support. The kinds of support mechanisms that Nacoa has developed are the sort of things we need to develop across the country.’

At Nacoa, no one of us can recall a similar event, where such high profile public figures devoted so much time to discuss the welfare of children of alcoholics.

Over the years studies have repeatedly shown that there are approximately 2.6 million children growing up in the UK with a parent who drinks too much, but this has rarely been talked about at a national level in a mature way.

The national silence around alcohol’s harm on children has been described by Nacoa patron and chair of the APPG on Children of Alcoholics, Liam Byrne MP, as ‘Britain’s dirty secret’. This kind of event makes leaps towards breaking that silence.

In 2017, Ashworth has become a leading figure for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children of Alcoholics. Following his speech in a Westminster debate on alcohol harm in February 2017, the then Minster for Public Health and Innovation, Nicola Blackwood, agreed to put in place a ‘strategy to help children of alcoholics’. However, after Blackwood lost her seat in the general election, the Sunday Express has reported concerns over the strategy’s future.