New research from the Department for Work and Pensions has highlighted how alcohol dependency is both a cause and a consequence of wider factors that affect the life chances of children from workless families.

The report ‘Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families’ identifies alcohol as one of multiple disadvantages among families who are workless and live with numerous potential barriers to entering employment. It found that the vast majority of parents reporting treatment for drug/alcohol use/dependency had been out of work for at least a month. This was one of several findings, which include:

  • Those who experience social and economic disadvantage in early life or adulthood are at greater risk of adopting problem drinking behaviours later in life
  • Parental alcohol dependency significantly affects the lives, and harms the wellbeing of children, negatively affecting more children than the misuse of illegal drugs
  • Research has shown that children of parents with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are more likely to develop AUD in later life
  • Alcohol consumption can also be both a cause and consequence of intimate partner violence (IPV).

The DWP report is the first in a series of initiatives aimed at “tackling the problems that prevent families from getting on in life.” Key alcohol dependency statistics from the report reveal that: between 189,000 and 208,000 children were living in households with adults with alcohol dependency in 2014/15; that 63% of parents with alcohol dependency reported no days’ paid work in the 28 days before starting treatment in 2015/16; and that higher rates of alcohol dependency tend to be associated with areas with higher deprivation.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green MP, said:

I don’t want any child to be defined by the circumstances of their birth. Every child should benefit from a strong relationship between their parents – whether they are together or separated.

Today marks the start of new support to help families overcome the problems they face to make sure that every child can go as far as their talents will take them.

In 2014 to 2015, 1 in 8 UK children were in families where no one was in work. To help address the range of problems that workless families face, the government plans to set out details of the next phase of the Troubled Families Programme, including more emphasis on helping parents into work. This follows the recommendations made in Dame Carol Black’s independent review ‘Drug and alcohol addiction, and obesity: effects on employment outcomes‘ published late last year. The DWP has announced plans to introduce:

  • A trial of the Individual and Placement Support approach to help people addicted to drugs and alcohol back into employment
  • A new network of peer mentors to act as trusted role models for people with drugs and alcohol dependencies, to help them back into employment
  • An expansion of the Access to Work fund to provide people with drugs and alcohol dependencies with the support they need to enter or stay in work.


Commenting on the report, Rosanna O’Connor, director of Alcohol, Drugs & Tobacco within the Health and Wellbeing Directorate of Public Health England tweeted:

Experts also called, however, for a wider, population-level approach to improving life and employment opportunities for dependent drinkers alongside greater support for individuals. Liver physician Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said:

“We welcome the Government’s recognition that cheap alcohol is damaging some of the most vulnerable groups in society. The revelation that 200,000 children in England are living with adults in need of specialist help is deeply worrying. We need to make sure people get the support they need once they have a problem with alcohol, for their own sakes and for the sake of their children. But people don’t set out to become dependent drinkers and we need to stop more people from reaching that stage.

“For the greatest impact, the measures announced today should be combined with measures like minimum unit pricing of alcohol. Studies have shown that setting a minimum price for alcohol would reduce unemployment and bring substantial numbers of unemployed drinkers back into the workforce.

“The government is already taking steps to tackle alcohol dependence in this broader way, with the recent announcement that it will be consulting on increasing the tax on high-strength ciders, drinks which are known to be drunk by the most vulnerable and do disproportionate harm.

“Studies also indicate that MUP would help address health inequalities, with over 80% of lives saved coming from the lowest income groups. At the same time, the measure would not increase the price of alcohol sold in pubs and clubs.”

You can watch Caroline Noakes MP explain the main aims of the Improving Lives report on the DWP Twitter feed.