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Young and Alcohol - A new approach launched in Government Action Plan

A comprehensive plan to stop young people drinking in public; help them make the right decisions about alcohol; and provide clear information to parents and young people about the risks of early drinking was announced today (2nd June 2008) by Ed Balls, Jacqui Smith and Alan Johnson in the Government’s Youth Alcohol Action Plan. 

The Action Plan sets out what the Government will do to address drinking by young people in three main ways:

  • Working with police and the courts to stop it, making it clear that unsupervised drinking by young people under-18 in public places is unacceptable;
  • Recognising that drinking by young people in the home is clearly the responsibility of parents and families, but providing clearer health information for parents and young people about how consumption of alcohol can affect children and young people. The Action Plan announces that the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson will produce clear guidelines for families; 
  • Working with the alcohol industry to continue the good progress made to reduce the sale of alcohol to under-18s but also in marketing and promoting alcohol in a more responsible way.

While the proportion of young people who drink regularly has fallen, the consumption of alcohol by those who do drink has risen sharply. And the ways in which young people are drinking have changed. The Youth Alcohol Action Plan promises a powerful package of action to tackle this:

  • New laws to stop young people drinking in public places, including a new offence to tackle persistent possession of alcohol;
  • New authoritative guidelines from the Chief Medical Officer about young people, alcohol and health; 
  • Establishing a new partnership with parents by providing them with clear information they need to guide their children towards low risk drinking; and
  • Supporting and encouraging young people themselves through publicity campaigns and education in schools to make the right decisions about alcohol. 

There is a rising trend.of young people drinking unsupervised in public places. This puts them and their communities at greater risk, so tough new measures will be introduced to give the police powers to tackle young people who harm themselves and their communities by persistently drinking unsupervised in public places. This includes the use of Acceptable Behaviour Contracts and Parenting Orders. To address the most serious and persistent cases of public drinking by young people, we will put in place tough new measures to address this, including legislating to make it an offence for under-18s to persistently possess alcohol in public places.

The Government wants to give parents and young people the information they need to make informed choices. The Chief Medical Officer will develop a new set of ‘guidelines’ on young people and alcohol. He will work with experts, parents and young people themselves to consider the age at which children and young people can start to drink alcohol, how much it is sensible for young people to drink; and how far young people’s drinking of alcohol should be supervised by parents.

Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, said:

“Tougher enforcement powers are needed to tackle under-age binge drinking but enforcement measures alone are not the solution. We need a culture change about drinking with everyone from parents, the alcohol industry and young people all taking more responsibility.

“We need to fundamentally influence young people’s behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol. This will involve talking to young people themselves but, crucially, parents tell us they want better, clearer information as they bring up their children.” 

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: 

“If you can’t buy alcohol you shouldn’t be able to drink it in public either. Underage drinking erodes the safety and well being of communities as well as damaging young people’s health. It’s not right and I am determined to put a stop to it.

“Alongside new measures to help police to take action against one-off offenders and put them back on the right track, I will introduce brand new legislation which is designed to tackle under-18s who won’t change their ways. All of us, Government, the police, alcohol retailers, community workers and parents - particularly parents - have a responsibility to face this challenge head on. Now we have the powers in place, it’s time to use them to their full effect.” 

Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, said:

“Young people drink, we know that. And instead of turning a blind eye or preaching at them, we must equip them and their parents with the information they need to stay healthy.

“Excess drinking caused an increasing number of people to be admitted to hospital last year. We want to ensure that the young people of today do not become patients of tomorrow because they have drunk too much alcohol.”

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, said:

"Fewer young people now drink, but those who do are drinking more – and they are probably unaware of the damage they are doing to their health. So it's essential that young people and their parents have clear, medical guidance.

“I will be working with an expert panel, as well as with parents and children, to develop clear information for children, and their parents, about the effects of alcohol."

Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children said:

“We welcome the Youth Alcohol Action Plan which is an important first step in tackling growing concerns around the level of young people’s drinking and the negative impact this can have on their health, well being and the communities in which they live. It is particularly encouraging to see an emphasis being placed on helping parents to discuss drinking alcohol with their children as many may feel uncomfortable and unsure of how to engage their children in talking about the issue.

“Providing young people with the information and guidance they need to make responsible decisions about drinking alcohol is vital, particularly given the peer pressure that many face. Working with young people and their families in this way will be an important part of the journey towards reversing the health and social problems which have resulted from our prevalent drinking culture.”

Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, said:

“Alcohol Concern has consistently campaigned for the government to take stronger action to reduce the considerable levels of teenage alcohol misuse and its associated harms. We’re therefore delighted to support the launch of this new action plan which promises a series of improved interventions. Given the widespread ease with which young people obtain and misuse alcohol, the scale of the challenge is considerable. However the plan represents an excellent start. Parents play a critical role in raising sensible drinkers and they should benefit from the clearer advice on how to raise these issues with their children that is promised under these proposals. Furthermore, it is right that we spotlight the role that improved industry standards could play in driving positive change.”

Editor's NotesThis press notice relates to 'England'

1. Young people’s relationship with alcohol has changed over recent years:

  • the proportion of 11-15 year olds who drink regularly is falling - from 28 per cent in 2001 to 21 per cent in 2006;
  • at the same time the average weekly consumption among young people who do drink has increased, doubling the number of units consumed by young people in that age group between 1999 and 2000;
  • one recent study found 47 per cent of 15-year-old girls had been drunk at least once in the past four weeks compared to 37 per cent of boys; 
  • latest evidence on drinking by 11-15-year-olds suggests 35 per cent of those who had drunk alcohol in the previous four weeks had done so deliberately to get drunk;
  • 56 per cent of 15-16-year-olds report having drunk heavily in the last 30 days and 30 per cent report having done this three or more times in the past 30 days;
  • there is a trend towards increased unsupervised drinking by young people in open-air public places – the proportion of 11-15 year olds who drink on the street, in a park or somewhere else outside has increased from 21 per cent in 1999 to 31 per cent in 2006; 
  • over half the people who said they had witnessed drunken or rowdy behaviour claimed it was due to young people drinking in public places;
  • alcohol is increasingly obtained from the home - of the 11-15-year-olds who drank 14 or more units in the previous week 48 per cent claim to have been given alcohol directly by their parents whilst 42 per cent claim to have taken it without their parents consent;
  • evidence suggests that the effects of young people’s alcohol consumption can be severe – both to their own short- and long-term health, but also to society more widely;
  • in particular, alcohol consumption is a key factor associated with young people committing offences as well as absence from school and the use of illicit drugs.

2. The Youth Alcohol Action Plan (YAAP) is jointly published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Home Office and the Department of Health. It builds on last year’s updated alcohol strategy, Safe. Sensible. Social.

3. The YAAP sets out a number of measures to deliver its objective of tackling young people’s alcohol consumption, these include:

  • Stopping young people drinking in public places
  • Give police the powers to disperse under-18s who are drinking and behaving anti-socially from any location 
  • Extend the Directions to Leave power to include 10-15 year olds
  • Extend alcohol arrest-referral pilots so that under-18s arrested for alcohol-related offences benefit from a brief intervention with a trained worker
  • Implement new legislation to make it an offence for under-18s to persistently possess alcohol in public places 
  • Taking action with industry 
  • Encourage voluntary test purchasing schemes
  • Encourage the wider use of Proof of Age Schemes 
  • Encourage the prompt rollout of Challenge 21 nationally
  • Working with industry to improve the Alcohol Social Responsibility Standards, with a view to making them mandatory
  • Developing a national consensus on young people and drinking
  • Conduct extensive consultation on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and the DCSF Expert Panel
  • Issue guidelines on young people and alcohol 
  • Establishing a new partnership with parents
  • Issuing guidance to parents regarding young people and alcohol
  • Extending Family Intervention Projects to include a focus on substance misuse
  • Encourage the police and other agencies to make greater use of Parenting Orders when a child or young person is caught persistently drinking in public places
  • Supporting young people to make sensible decisions
  • Launch a communications campaign about the risks of alcohol – particularly aimed at 11-15 year olds 
  • Implement the actions arising from the review of drug and alcohol education in schools

4. The Government’s Drug Strategy was published in February of this year. There are clear links between the YAAP and the drugs strategy namely, the priority of providing whole family interventions for families affected by any form of substance misuse, including alcohol, to prevent future problems for children.

5. DCSF is investing in targeted interventions for families at risk, which will reduce, over the long term, the number of young people at increased risk of misusing alcohol, as well as other poor outcomes through promoting positive parenting and supporting families to positively influence their children. These initiatives include intensive support services to reach the most chaotic families through the Family Interventions Projects and Family Pathfinders to develop local systems and services that improve outcomes for families at risk.