Calls to helpline for children of alcoholics double in Covid lockdown

Camilla Tominey
·4 min read
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics has reported record call numbers in lockdown - Andrew Matthews/ PA
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics has reported record call numbers in lockdown - Andrew Matthews/ PA

Calls to a helpline for Britain's estimated 2.6 million children of alcoholics have doubled in lockdown.

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa), the only dedicated helpline of its kind in the UK, has reported record call numbers over the past 12 months as a result of the Covid pandemic.

As well as calls doubling to 31,000, the number of those aged 12 to 28 seeking help has quadrupled. The figures come after data showed that alcohol deaths have increased significantly in the wake of the virus crisis.

Earlier this month, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that there were 5,460 deaths related to "alcohol-specific causes" between January and September last year. That is up from 3,732 the year before – an increase of more than 16 per cent.

The ONS said the alcohol-specific death rate in England and Wales reached 12.8 deaths per 100,000 people from January to March, its highest level since 2001 when the figure was 9.5 deaths.

It came after research by Alcohol Change UK found that close to one in three (29 per cent) people drank more alcohol in 2020 than 2019. Twenty-six per cent reported drinking earlier in the day, 31 per cent drinking more often, and 23 per cent drinking "to try and cope".

Last week, NSPCC Wales revealed it had seen a 72 per cent rise in referrals to the police and agencies for parents misusing drugs and alcohol since the pandemic began.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, is urging the Government to renew its funding for the children of alcoholics in light of the latest figures. A £6 million three-year funding package was set aside in March 2018, but the money runs out at the end of next month.

Mr Ashworth, whose father Jon died from alcoholism in 2010, said: "We cannot allow children of alcoholics to be abandoned as forgotten victims of this pandemic.

"With surveys reporting increased parental home drinking and rising calls to children's helplines, it's clear lockdown is impacting on thousands of children who could be exposed to abuse or develop mental health problems themselves as a consequence.

"Three years ago, I praised Jeremy Hunt for showing leadership in setting up this resource. I'm now urging Matt Hancock to follow in his footsteps and continue and expand this vital funding. We can't let children pick up the pieces of shattered lives alone."

Calum Best, who became a Nacoa patron after writing a book about his heavy-drinking father, the Manchester United footballer George Best, said: "What is happening to kids in alcoholic parent families is bad enough. Add a year of a pandemic with increased parental drinking at home and no escape for the kids and it can be highly traumatising.

"If we can provide funds to make sure they are looked after, then we will potentially avoid a future life of trauma and issues."

Liam Byrne said MPs were 'determined to change things for Britain's children' - Andrew Fox Source: Andrew Fox
Liam Byrne said MPs were 'determined to change things for Britain's children' - Andrew Fox Source: Andrew Fox

In 2017, the Labour MP Liam Byrne, whose father Dermot was an alcoholic, set up an all-party parliamentary group which launched a "manifesto for change" calling on the Government to devise a strategy to help the children of alcoholics.

Research suggests the children of alcoholics are twice as likely to experience difficulties at school, three times more likely to consider suicide and five times more likely to develop eating disorders.

But despite alcohol-related hospital admissions rising sharply before coronavirus – up by 45 per cent compared to 2009 figures – local authorities have suffered a further two per cent cut in their drug and alcohol treatment services budget compared to the previous year.

Mr Byrne said: "Most councils have now got strategies to help children of alcoholics, but treatment budgets are still falling.

"Ministers did a good thing putting in place funding for pilots, but now is the time to build on that, not abolish the plan. As a group of MPs, we know we couldn't change things for our parents. But we're sure as hell determined to change things for Britain's children."