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

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.