This week Liam Byrne MP and Johnathan Ashworth MP secured a commitment from the Government to work together to support children of parents with alcohol problems.
The debate in Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament included pressing topics relating to alcohol harm, such as foetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASD), minimum alcohol pricing, legal drink driving limits, acute regional challenges in Scotland, and the issues facing children living in a household where one or more parents drink problematically. The first ever manifesto for children of alcoholics will be launched during COA Week.
In Byrne’s speech, he gave thanks to helplines working to support families struggling with alcohol problems: ‘I start my remarks this afternoon with heartfelt thanks to such charities as the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, Childline, Turning Point, Aquarius in my home city of Birmingham and many, many others for all the difference they have made to hundreds of thousands of children.’
Byrne has been working closely with Nacoa since establishing the first ever UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Children of Alcoholics. As part of his speech, he referenced the influence of Nacoa Chief Executive, Hilary Henriques, on his thinking:
‘Charities such as the National Association for Children of Alcoholics are so important. When I was in an agony of public shame after the last election, it was Hilary Henriques who got me back on my feet. It was Hilary who helped me see that there was something constructive and productive that I could do to aid this particular cause.’
‘Nacoa has had 1 million contacts in the last 15 years by phone, email or through the website. The demand for its services is going up and up. These poor children are suffering in silence. They feel a profound sense of shame and insecurity. They feel that it is their fault. They curse themselves for not being able to do anything about it, and not only do the suffer in silence, but they feel like they are on their own.’
The Shadow Health Secretary, Johnathan Ashworth MP, followed and gave a movingly personal account of his experiences growing up with a parent whose chronic drink problem eventually claimed his life: ‘Dealing with my dad’s alcoholism coloured my upbringing and my life.’ Ashworth described how this affected both his childhood and adult relationship with his father, and how, in the lead up to Ashworth’s wedding, his father moved abruptly to Thailand and did not attend:
‘I was so angry that I could not talk to him, as you would expect. A few months later, he was dead. The friends he had made over there told me he was drinking a bottle of whisky a day. They told me he could not come to the wedding because he did not want to embarrass me. We were from a working-class family in Salford. I had gone to university and become a politician, and posh people would be at the wedding, and he felt that he would embarrass me by being there. I will always regret that.’
Ashworth implored that although his job was to oppose the Government, he wanted to ‘work with the Government on a cross-party basis to put in place a proper strategy for supporting children of alcoholics because, quite simply, 2 million children are suffering. Let us send them a message that they should no longer suffer in silence.’
The Minister for Public Health and Innovation, Nicola Blackwood MP, commending the bravery of Bryne and Ashworth, was moved to tears following their speeches. She gave her commitment to work with Byrne, Ashworth and the Parliamentary Group to help bring about serious change for children of parents with alcohol problems. She finished her speech by affirming a cross-party unity to help let people know they are not alone:
‘Great social change requires three things: long-term political will, non-partisan partnership and bravery. I have heard all three of those today. I hope that each Member who has spoken here today will continue to work with me as we fight on to tackle this social injustice.’