Monica Lennon: I’ve seen how drink scars families

Scotland has taken bold action towards tackling alcohol harm in recent years.

The statistics bring home the scale of the challenge, writes Monica Lennon. Picture: John Devlin

We now have policies like minimum unit pricing and a new alcohol strategy that acknowledges the scale of the challenge we face in Scotland.

Yet despite some positive advancements in Scottish Government policy over the last decade, alcohol harm is costing Scotland £3.6 billion annually and is still contributing to the death of people we know or love, every single day. People like 60-year-old Gerry from Lanarkshire – my dad – who died four years ago.Growing up around alcohol has a big influence over us, especially for the 51,000+ children in Scotland living with a problem drinker.

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The statistics bring home the scale of the challenge. I know, because my family has been one of them and I’ve seen first-hand how “social drinking” can spiral into full-blown dependency and destroy relationships, careers, health and happiness. During my time in Parliament, speaking up about Scotland’s relationship with alcohol has been a personal priority.

I’ve raised the issue of tackling stigma directly with the First Minister and as Co-Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Drugs and Alcohol Misuse.

Addiction is an illness and problem drinking in Scotland is a public health emergency. Social stigma and corporate influences are strong, so our decision-makers need to have courage.

That’s why the collaboration between the Children’s Parliament and Alcohol Focus Scotland is exciting. Young people talking openly about alcohol and how it affects them in their everyday lives is a powerful message to politicians.

So, with young people pushing for change, like those in the Children’s Parliament that I’m looking forward to welcoming to the Scottish Parliament soon, I am optimistic about our future and the progress that is possible.

Communities need more services and investment and that’s why Scottish Labour is committed to a social responsibility levy. The legal provision already exists for this additional tax on alcohol sales. We simply want the Scottish Government to enact this and reinvest the funds in communities and recovery programmes.

A public health approach that protects young people and changes our attitudes to alcohol can make Scotland a healthier and happier nation.

Monica Lennon is Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport