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MUP study adds to understanding of harmful alcohol consumption in families

A study exploring the impact of Minimum Unit Pricing, on children and young people affected by the harmful alcohol consumption of a parent or carer, has provided an important insight into the lived experience of these families.

A study investigating practitioners’ views on the potential role of Minimum Unit Pricing in protecting children and young people from harms caused by their parent or carer’s drinking has provided valuable insight into their lived experience. The study is the latest in the established and ongoing evaluation of MUP, which as of 1 April 2020, Public Health Scotland are leading.

The findings underline that MUP is just one of a number of factors that may influence the lives of children and young people within families affected by harmful alcohol use. As such, participants could not report whether MUP had resulted in any positive or negative impact on the harms children and young people experience. As data collection took place between February and May 2019 this study does not provide any specific insight into either the impact of MUP, or any harms experienced, in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, but its findings emphasise the importance of appropriate alcohol-related support services for families at any time.

Focus groups were conducted with staff working in services that support children, young people and families where parents or carers drink at harmful levels. Participants were asked to discuss their perceptions of the physical, psychological and social harms children and young people may experience or be at risk of, any potential changes they had observed since the introduction of MUP, and what factors contributed to these changes.

As specialists supporting families affected by harmful alcohol use, participants discussed the complex and challenging lives of those they work with, and the many factors that influence the harms some children and young people experience, in addition to a parent or carer’s harmful drinking. Persistent poverty and the pressures of financial hardship in particular were highlighted as a pervasive feature of many of these families’ lives. These factors, together with the relatively recent implementation of MUP, made it difficult for participants to identify the specific effects of the policy on harms to children and young people as a result of their parent or carer’s harmful drinking.

Participants were supportive of MUP as a policy to address harmful drinking at a population level. They felt the increase in price may encourage consideration of reduced consumption amongst parents and carers who were drinking to hazardous and harmful levels, resulting in a positive impact for children and young people. However, participants also suggested that MUP may have little positive impact on those who they described as having a possible dependency on alcohol, and identified that these individuals would need support to help them address the reasons underlying their harmful drinking.

Jane Ford, Principal Public Health Intelligence Advisor at Public Health Scotland, said:

“This study provides an important understanding of the lived experience of families in Scotland, where children and young people experience harm as a result of their parent or carer’s drinking. First and foremost the findings highlight the challenging unstable environments, and the related harms, which some children and young people experience, as well as the complex range of factors which contribute to this.

“However, participants felt that the negative impacts of poverty and recent changes to the welfare system were more likely to affect the families they work with than any potential financial impact of MUP, whether positive or negative.

“These findings demonstrate the significance of appropriate support for families with differing alcohol-related needs, and the importance of MUP being complemented by other measures that help parents and carers to address the underlying reasons for their harmful drinking. Whole family approaches, that mitigate the risk of harms to children and young people while supporting their parent or carer’s recovery, are crucial.

“Whilst this research took place before the coronavirus outbreak and the physical distancing measures taken to address it, we know that families around Scotland will continue to experience alcohol-related harm. Support for families where parents or carers are drinking at harmful levels is available from both national organisations and local community alcohol groups”.

First published on 12 May 2020