Department for Education
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Children’s Minister: Government consultation on young people and alcohol receives wide-ranging support

Children’s Minister, Dawn Primarolo, today published the responses to a consultation on children, young people and alcohol. The responses show that there is a broad base of support for guidelines from the Chief Medical Office on safe levels of drinking. There is also a clear need for government advice and information for parents. Respondents were very clear that Government had a role to play on the issue and parents were keen for more support and information.

The consultation, which included guidance drawn up by Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), asked how best to help young people make informed choices about alcohol consumption. The responses were issued on the same day as new statistics show a decline in the number of 11-15 year olds drinking alcohol.

The consultation has shown that parents and young people mostly agree with the CMO’s guidance which suggests that young people should not consume alcohol under the age of 15 and between 15 and 17 any alcohol consumption should be with the guidance or supervision of parents and carers.

The Government received over 26,000 responses to the consultation and associated activity, with the majority of the responses coming from young people themselves as well as a large proportion of parents.

Statistics from the NHS Information survey of over 7,500 secondary school children showed a continued decline in the number of young people drinking. 52% of 11-15 year olds questioned said that they had, ever consumed alcohol, compared to 54% in 2007 and to 61% in 2001. However, of those young people who drank alcohol, there was a rise in the number of units consumed, highlighting the growing need for guidance on consumption of alcohol.

Children’s Minister Dawn Primarolo said:

“I am pleased that today’s statistics show a continued decline in the number of young people drinking alcohol, however it is disappointing to see that those who choose to drink, are drinking more than last year. The statistics and the findings from the consultation show that the Government is on the right track with our guidelines and information for parents and young people. The consultation showed that there is a need for clear and concise guidance to help young people make an informed decision about the consumption of alcohol.

“But what today’s findings also demonstrate is the need to make sure guidance and information is suitably targeted at parents as well as their children. Ultimately we want to see young people waiting longer before consuming alcohol, but when they do decide to drink, we need to make sure that they and their family have clear support and advice from professionals.”

The NHS Information Smoking, Drink and Drugs (SDD) survey suggests that schools pupils are more than three times as likely to drink alcohol if they live with other drinkers and they are more likely to drink if they believe their parents are tolerant of their drinking. Respondents to the consultation highlighted that parents can and should play a pivotal role in their child’s decision-making about alcohol. The DCSF will work with parenting groups to ensure there is relevant and useful advice for parents and carers.

Generally, respondents felt that the information for young people should be shorter and simpler, but the majority felt that the messages were effective enough to be put into practice.

As a result of the consultation, the guidelines set by Sir Liam Donaldson will remain unchanged and will form part of a communications campaign later in the year as well as informing Sir Liam Donaldson’s final guidance document for professionals working with young people in the autumn.

The Government is working with schools, charities, the drinks industry and other agencies to develop a high impact campaign that aims to ensure that when a young person makes a decision to drink alcohol, that they drink less and are aware of the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.

Editor's Notes

This press notice relates to 'England'

1. The consultation is a Youth Alcohol Action Plan (YAAP) commitment to ask parents, young people and other stakeholders their views about the ‘safer drinking’ guidance produced by the CMO and the DCSF draft advice and information for parents.

2. The summary responses to the consultation can be viewed at:

3. In the YAAP, we recognise that parents are vital in shaping young people’s attitude to drinking alcohol. Findings from the SDD survey support this approach. While this campaign aims to prevent young people from developing problems with alcohol we are also working to tackle the effects of alcohol amongst those already drinking. This summer we are running a £1.4 million programme across 69 areas, to tackle alcohol-fuelled youth crime and anti-social behaviour.

4. This is all part of a broader strategy set out in the Youth Alcohol Action Plan to cut young people’s alcohol misuse through a combination of education & information, enforcement and action with industry.

5. Whilst the continuous fall in Alcohol and Drug use is welcome we remain committed in reducing further and we have awarded more than £400,000 to voluntary organisations over the next two years to improve support available to families affected by drug or alcohol problems.

6. There is already considerable work going on both nationally and locally – ranging from the ‘know your limits’ campaign to the work of individual local authorities.

7. Case Study: A good example of a local campaign is the ‘Think Drink’ campaign in South Tyneside. As part of this, the local authority has developed a website that not only provides helpful information and advice about the risks of drinking alcohol at a young age but also gives young people information on the full range of other activities that are available in the local area. The website was promoted to more than 10,000 young people via leaflets, keyrings and information sessions with every secondary school in the area. It was also linked to enforcement activity, with police stepping up their work on tackling young people drinking in public places. As well as generic information and advice the campaign included a freephone number for those who were worried about drinking (available to parents and young people themselves). This linked to Matrix, the young people’s substance misuse service. This co-ordinated work saw a fall of 37 per cent in the number of calls to police linked to youth nuisance in the period January – June 09 compared to the previous year. This is a good example of what local authorities can achieve when all of the strands of activity are linked together.

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