Britain is facing a "secret scandal" over failings in the care of the country's 2.5 million children who have alcoholic parents, a group of MPs and peers has said.
The all-parliamentary group, supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said its research uncovered a "shocking picture of support for children of alcoholics", including an apparent absence of strategies to deal with the issue and a dearth of funding in many areas.
The group urged the government to take urgent action to protect Britain's "innocent victims of drink", as it launched a manifesto at the House of Commons.
'Breaking the silence'
Led by Labour MP Liam Byrne, whose father fought addiction to alcohol, the group said it was time to break the "cycle of alcoholism cascading down the generations".
"We have to break the cycle of this terrible disease – and that starts by breaking the silence around Britain's biggest secret scandal," the manifesto states.
One in five children in the UK lives with a parent who drinks too much, according to the group. This equates to more than 2.5 million children.
These young victims are twice as likely as their peers to experience difficulties at school, three times more likely to consider suicide and five times more likely to develop eating disorders, the group said.
Most troublingly, it said, statistics show that children of alcoholics are also four times more likely than their peers to become alcoholics themselves.
Demands for urgent action
Foetal alcohol syndrome is the most common non-genetic cause of learning difficulties in the UK. In addition, pupils affected by foetal alcohol syndrome often display a variety of behavioural problems. Often regarded as wilful or undisciplined, these children may have little control over their behaviour. A disrupted school experience is a common symptom.
The group, which includes Tory MP Fiona Bruce, Labour MP Caroline Flint and crossbench peers Baroness Hollins and the Earl of Listowel, has issued 10 demands for government action on the issue:
- Take responsibility for children of alcoholics;
- Create a national strategy for children of alcoholics;
- Properly fund local support for children of alcoholics;
- Increase availability of support for families battling alcohol problems;
- Boost education and awareness for children;
- Boost education and training for professionals with a responsibility for children;
- Develop a plan to change public attitudes;
- Revise the national strategy to tackle alcohol harm to focus on price and availability;
- Curtail the promotion of alcohol, especially when it can be witnessed by children;
- Take responsibility for reducing rates of alcohol harm.
Children suffer alone
The Most Rev Justin Welby, who has spoken publicly about living with a parent dependent on drink, said that alcohol abuse prevented children from having vital healthy relationships.
He said: "We all know that having a parent who abuses alcohol is one of the most disruptive experiences for any child, and leads frequently to long-term effects in one's self-confidence, one's capacity to relate, and even, for some people, in their own relation to alcohol itself.
"My experience, whether easier or more difficult than that of others, was fairly difficult. One of the things I most missed was the company of others who understood the issue."