Children left to suffer as parents' drinking 'swept under the carpet'

Millions of children are being left to cope with the effects of their parents' drinking problems because the current system "sweeps the problem under the carpet", charities said today.

Alcohol Concern and The Children's Society called for a public inquiry as more than four in five adults said in a poll they thought misuse of alcohol by parents was as harmful to children as parents who used drugs.

More needed to be known about the scale of the problem, its costs to society and how best to tackle the issue, they said.

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Their call follows research published in the Journal of Public Health last year which found 2.6 million children in the UK were living with parents who are drinking hazardously.

And alcohol plays a part in between one quarter and a third (25-33 per cent) of known cases of child abuse, according to a Cabinet Office report in 2004.

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "It's shocking that in spite of the worrying numbers of children affected by parents' heavy drinking and domestic abuse, so little is being done to address this.

"The whole system sweeps the problem under the carpet and together with the secrecy and stigma involved, millions of children are left to do their best in incredibly difficult circumstances."

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children's Society, added: "I cannot stress strongly enough the harmful impact that substance abuse can have on both children and whole families; it is imperative that everyone understands these risks and we believe that education is the key."

The charities also called for mandatory social work training as recent research found that one third of social workers received no training on alcohol or drugs and half received just three hours of training or less.

Dr Sarah Galvani, of the British Association of Social Workers, said: "Problematic alcohol use by parents is highlighted by social workers as far more prevalent than drug use.

"Alongside the overlapping experiences of domestic violence and mental ill health, parental alcohol and other drug use are the three factors that repeatedly put children at risk of serious harm."

Chris Sorek, chief executive of Drinkaware, said: "This report reminds parents that you don't have to be an alcoholic for your drinking to have a direct impact on your children.

"Regularly drinking to excess in front of children can normalise alcohol misuse and have an impact on young people's attitudes to drinking in later life."

BOOZE NOW CHEAPER THAN CHOCOLATE

Health groups are calling for the Government to act tackle the "plague" of illness caused by cheap alcohol after it was revealed a young woman could exceed her daily drink limit for half the price of a bar of chocolate.

Strong cider was available in city centre supermarkets and off-licences for as little as 10p a unit, while lager was little more than 26p a pint.

The pricing means a woman could drink more than her daily recommended allowance for just 30p – half the price of a standard bar of chocolate.

Deborah Evans, chairwoman of the Core Cities Health Improvement Collaborative, said: "Despite inflation, increases in duty on alcohol and commitments to curb below-cost selling, we have seen the price of the cheapest alcohol largely unaffected over the past 12 months.

"As a result, young men and women can still buy their maximum recommended weekly allowance of alcohol for the price of a small latte or a cheap magazine.

"Meanwhile, the true cost of alcohol is picked up by taxpayers in the form of soaring hospital admissions, crime and anti-social behaviour."