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MP welcomes Government's commitment to tackling alcohol misuse


7th February 2012

David Burrowes welcomes the Government's commitment to tackling alcohol misuse and the consideration of minimum pricing especially.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing this timely debate. It is similar to the debate that I secured in May 2007, just before the publication of the then Government’s alcohol harm reduction strategy. In 2007 I was pessimistic about the direction in which the situation with alcohol was headed, but in 2012 I am optimistic. In 2007 the strategy was too limited and failed to tackle the need to reduce overall consumption and the harm caused by alcohol, as well as to be more ambitious about recovery from addiction.

Without going into too much detail, I would like to raise the issue of pricing, which, quite properly, has already been mentioned. In 2007, I was part of the Centre for Social Justice which recognised—perhaps going against its more traditional instincts of not wanting to bang the drum for taxation—that price has a particular impact on dependent drinkers and young people, which are the groups we wish to tackle when we see such enormous carnage in our communities. I am pleased that the Government are considering seriously the case for minimum pricing, and we await the outcome of those deliberations.

My experience comes not from being a politician, but from being a criminal defence solicitor. Sadly, my filing cabinet is full of notes about lives that have been damaged, or indeed lost, because of alcohol. Many of those cases involve not just one person, but a grandparent, a father and a son—the intergenerational cycle of alcohol misuse, which includes the impact of crime.

Last year in Hertford magistrates court I came across one individual—let us call him Lee—who was an alcoholic. He was aged 16, had just come out of a young offenders institution, and told me that he had been an alcoholic for three years. I asked him about his family and school background, and he said that everyone had given up on him. Indeed, when he left the young offenders institution, he stopped seeking any effective treatment because the only statutorily provided adolescent rehabilitation centre closed down last year. I asked him about school, and he said that he was known there as “Wasted.” That was how he was known, and that was how he felt. Sadly, such wasted lives litter our community, and the impact on children and young people is severe.

Some 9 million children are affected by a family member who has a problem with the misuse of alcohol. That is a massive figure, and children of parents who are problematic drug or alcohol users are themselves seven times more likely to develop a substance misuse problem.

We need to move away from the way in which we have historically dealt with alcohol treatment, focusing on the individual, to a whole-family-centred approach in order to tackle this intergenerational drug misuse. We need to ensure, as the Government are committed to ensuring, that it is not a Cinderella service—that people do not just come to the ball now and again when they show that they have a problem—but that the approach is systemic and integrated. That is what the drug strategy and the alcohol strategy show—that we are seeking to tackle drug and alcohol misuse and be much more ambitious about recovery.

We need to ensure that we recognise the evidential basis of alcohol treatment. We know from the UK alcohol treatment trials that every pound invested in treatment saves £5 in reduced health care costs, social care costs and criminal justice costs. Taking such action will ensure that the current Government are known not just for economic recovery, but for social recovery. Tackling alcohol misuse is one way to achieve that. I know that the Government are up for it. I am sure that we shall hear shortly that my hon. Friend the Minister is up for it as well.

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David Burrowes MP
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