There is no doubt that Scotland has traditionally had an uneasy relationship with alcohol. Although there are some indications of progress, it remains a live issue.
Official figures tell us that 26 per cent of adult drinkers are consuming at hazardous levels. There were 1265 alcohol related deaths in 2016 and drink played a significant part in 54 per cent of violent crime. When all relevant factors are taken into account, the problem is costing Scotland somewhere in the region of £3.6 billion per annum.
The Scottish Government is hoping to tackle this problem, in part, by setting a minimum price per unit of 50p. It is difficult to argue against this, given that it is suggested that the measure would reduce alcohol-related deaths by 120 per year by year 20 of the policy and over the same time-frame hospital admissions would fall by 2000.
Set alongside these figures we have the statistics for child poverty in Scotland. Approximately one in four Scottish children lives in poverty. The percentage of children living in poverty rises significantly, to around 60 per cent, when they are living in families where no-one is working.
There are a number of obvious reasons for child poverty, but somewhere on the list will be parents with either a drug or alcohol addiction.
When children are living in houses where alcohol is king, they are at greater risk of abuse, mistreatment or neglect, as the parents are unable or unwilling to prioritise their children’s needs over their own frantic desire for alcohol. Basic needs in terms of food and clothing go unmet. It is estimated that around 65,000 children fall into this category.
All of this would seem to make the argument for minimum unit pricing unanswerable, but is it?
As a member of the Children’s Panel, I frequently come into contact with young people whose lives are blighted by parental alcohol addiction. They go to school hungry because there isn’t any food in the house, their clothes are dirty because no-one can be bothered to wash them, they’re cold because there’s no money to pay the gas/electricity bill and they sleep on the floor because the bed has been sold to buy more booze.
Surely then these are precisely the children who will be helped by minimum unit pricing? Making alcohol more expensive will result in their wayward, feckless parents being able to purchase less drink, sober up and take their parental responsibilities more seriously. If only it was that easy.
The truth is that those who have this addiction will continue to buy alcohol no matter what it costs. If they do so, this will mean even less money to be spent on the essentials which every child should be able to take for granted.
This legislation, though well-meaning and a step in the right direction, could actually make things even worse for those youngsters for whom life already borders on the intolerable.
Steps need to be taken to protect them.
David Hamill is a member of the Children’s Panel. He lives in East Lothian