Alberto Costa, the Tory candidate for Angus, recently wrote to the Brechin Advertiser to set out his views on tackling alcohol abuse in Scotland, particularly amongst younger people.
In his letter, he talked at length about how in mainland Europe, “children are exposed to alcoholic drinks, such as a glass of wine over a normal family dinner… removing any of the mystiques that so many of our youngsters attach to alcohol.”
Mr Costa is clearly completely out of touch with the real causes of under age drinking in Scotland. Fellow Angus Lib Dems and I have discussed precisely this issue with social workers, teachers and community workers. We recently met organisers of The Attic Project in Brechin when, amongst other issues, we discussed under age drinking. In a study amongst their youngsters, by far the most common factor for drinking was being surrounded at home by heavy drinkers, in many cases to the point where the children are neglected.
In fact, charity Turning Point, claimed last year that 1.3 million children across the UK are living with parents who misuse alcohol. Far from being a “mystique”, alcohol is a regular part of these children’s lives, disrupting their families, and leaving them exposed to rage, violence and neglect. This has been shown to create a negative self image amongst children, increase levels of depression and truancy, and affect their attainment at school and later in life. These children are growing up thinking that heavy drinking is normal behaviour.
No fewer than 40,000 children have been fined, cautioned or taken to court for alcohol related offences across the UK in the last five years. Criminalising these children will just expose them to an even harsher existence, and may well condemn them to long term drug and alcohol abuse and a life of crime. Instead we must break the cycle of alcohol abuse and demonstrate to these children that there is a positive alternative.
We have to be serious about helping parents overcome their alcohol addiction, provide separate support for the children and then help to rebuild these families.
We need to get young people who have been drug and alcohol abusers themselves, to go and talk to children about their experiences. Just like the excellent Fiona Walsh is doing for the Volunteer Centre Angus, based in Arbroath.
By coincidence, this week, 14-20 February is the Children of Alcoholics Week, and I would encourage everyone to learn more about the issues facing the most vulnerable members of our community by clicking here to get tot he Children of Alcoholics Week website.
If Mr Costa and the Tories want to solve such a crucial issue for Scotland, they first need to properly understand the causes.