UK Politics

Byrne urges help for families damaged by alcohol abuse

Liam Byrne Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Byrne said his father had fought alcohol addiction for 30 years

Ex-minister Liam Byrne has called for more to be done to help children whose parents are "hazardous drinkers" after speaking publicly about his father's fight with alcohol addiction.

The Labour MP is urging people to "break the silence" about the issue, a taboo subject he says must be tackled.

He told the BBC it "hurts like hell" to talk about his father, who died in the run-up to May's general election.

Children at risk must be identified and adults given the right help, he said.

Mr Byrne, who served in the cabinet under Gordon Brown, said he was going public about the subject for the first time to draw attention to the plight of families whose lives had been damaged by alcohol abuse, a problem which he said was "cascading down the generations".

The MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill has used a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall to draw attention to the issue, saying he had lived with the effects of his father's drinking on his family since he was seven years old but many families had had it "much worse".

'Sense of shame'

Earlier, he told BBC Radio 4's Today. "My Dad was an amazing guy, a very charismatic guy, a great public servant who inspired me to go into politics."

"He struggled with alcohol addiction for 30 years. That struggle, that addiction hurt us as a family and before the election it killed him."

While alcohol addiction affected different families in different ways, he said he was conscious of the "sense of shame" that he felt about it and the fact that the illness often transcended generations of the same family.

"Children of alcoholics are three times more likely to become alcoholics themselves and that was the same for my Dad. He was the child of an alcoholic.

"So if we are to break the cycle, I think we have to break the silence about the damage that it is doing to children and to our country."

Referring to the public reaction to Charles Kennedy's death earlier this year, he said the subject of alcohol addiction - from which the former Lib Dem leader suffered and which contributed to his death - was too often swept under the carpet or talked about in coded language.

'Giving a voice'

Like discussions about mental health, he said the subject must be brought out into the open.

"When Charles died a lot of people started talking about demons and I just thought 'it was not demons, he was addicted to alcohol'. Unless we normalise the conversation about this we are not going to make progress."

With only one in 20 "dependent drinkers" receiving help and alcohol-related admissions to Accident and Emergency departments increasing in two thirds of the country, Mr Byrne said urgent action was now required in three areas.

He wants a major public health information campaign to make parents aware of the damage they are doing to their children while dependents must be put in touch with professionals who can help them, such as GPs, nurses or social workers.

Finally, he said "we have to make sure that the right treatment is in place so when parents ask for help, it's there".

Speaking in Parliament, childrens' minister Edward Timpson praised Mr Byrne's "courage" for speaking out and his "determination to give a voice to the many thousands of children who find themselves in the same predicament".

Mr Timpson said social workers and teachers must be equipped to respond to alcohol-related distress, while the public sector as a whole must be more consistent in its approach to ensure "families who feel unsupported and children who feel lonely no longer have that as a feature of their lives."

He added: "I will undertake to talk with ministerial colleagues around how we raise public awareness of this issue in a similar ilk to the way we have on smoking."

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