Liam Byrne reveals how growing up with an alcoholic father left him ‘scarred’

This news story was covered in November last year following the Early Day Motion that was presented to the Houses of Parliament regarding the governments support for the children of alcoholics sponsored by Liam Byrne.  He did a radio 4 interview to support this which you can listen to here and this is the coverage in the Daily Telegraph where he talked about being left ‘scarred’ by his experience.

byrne_2190768bA former Labour Cabinet minister revealed for the first time his “sheer choking worry” of being brought up by a father whose alcoholism left him “scarred”.

Liam Byrne, who held a number of Cabinet posts in the last Labour Government, will criticise the Government for failing to recognise children’s suffering in its official alcohol strategy.

In a brave and highly personal speech in the Houses of Parliament, Mr Byrne laid bare his experience growing up as the child of an alcoholic.  Mr Byrne paid tribute to his “extraordinary” father Dermot, who died aged 68 just before May’s general election after fighting his alcoholism.

He said: “At his best, he was warm; he was charismatic; he was generous; he was an idealistic; he was the man who inspired me to be idealistic like him; to join the Labour party; to venture out into the jungle of public life; to take personal responsibility for making change happen”.

However Mr Byrne detailed how Dermot was “fighting an addiction to alcohol that scarred me – and when he lost the woman he loved, my mother, at the age of 52, to cancer, it knocked him over the edge”.

He said: “Growing up as a child and an adult I’ve had to handle all the things that every child of an alcoholic gets to feel – but never really to understand.  Trying to make yourself invisible – because you just want to disappear from the embarrassment. The chronic insecurity.  The co-dependency of supporting others – in my case counselling my mum, from the tender age of eight. The hospital visits. The trouble with ambulances.  The sheer choking agony of worry: is he OK? Is he safe? Is he on a floor? Is he eating? Am I doing enough? Am I a good son?  Am I obeying the commandment to honour your mother and father? The guilt: why aren’t I there to look after him?  The drive for perfectionism that comes from that striving to please, to make proud, to delight someone who just seems not to care.”

Mr Byrne criticised the Government for not doing more to help the estimated 2.6million children who are said to live with a “hazardous” or “dependent” drinker.  Crucially, children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves, he said.

Mr Byrne pointed out that the Coalition Government’s Alcohol strategy, published in 2012, fails to mention how to look after children of alcoholic parents.  He demanded that the Government take steps to ensure that these children know they are not alone and realise that their parents’ drinking is not their fault.  He also urged the Government to set up and run a major public information campaign aimed at heavy drinking parents, to let them know the damage they are doing to their children and give them advice on how to get help

Mr Byrne this week launched a new All Party Parliamentary Group to champion the cause, bringing together MPs who are themselves children of alcoholics.

Mr Byrne also called on others to speak out “to break the silence – so we can break the cycle of the alcohol that scars children for life”.

A government spokesman said: “Every child should grow up in a safe environment. We have invested more than £8 billion to help councils put services in place to protect those at risk of abuse or neglect, including from alcoholic parents.  We are also working across government to educate young people about the risks of alcohol and break the cycle of addiction.  We are continuing to improve the quality of social workers, strengthening the child protection system as a whole and encouraging councils to find new ways to tackle problems through our £100m Innovation Programme.”

And this too in The Guardian

I have been slightly stunned over the past few days by the sheer number of people – from MPs, to journalists to members of the public – who’ve got in touch to say “me too”. The scale of this problem is immense: one in five of our children is the child of a hazardous drinker. That’s 2.6 million kids.

The hardest thing for me in recent days has been reading the stories people wanted to share, with tears running down my face. I tell you, I feel now that there is an epidemic of this agony in every corner of the country. And the pain can last a lifetime. One man – still unable to forgive his father – told me he was still grappling with the pain at the age of 70.

When Charles Kennedy died, I snapped. I admired Charles, and I just couldn’t stand the way people talked about his fight with “demons”. For heaven’s sake, it wasn’t demons. It was a disease. It made me feel that we’ve got to normalise the conversation about alcoholism. But that means we’ve got to organise the conversation. And that’s why, with the help of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and a host of alcohol charities, I’ve started our campaign in parliament, because my dad was also the child of an alcoholic.

Me too Liam, me too.

I sincerely hope this cross-party motion gets support for the sake of all those children and young people impacted by a parent or parents who drink.

Edited to add: 17th February 2016

BBC Breakfast interview on campaign to support children of alcoholics

Today I was interviewed on BBC Breakfast as part of the cross-party campaign to support the children of alcoholics | Liam Byrne, UK

7 thoughts on “Liam Byrne reveals how growing up with an alcoholic father left him ‘scarred’

  1. I thought this was a really moving piece (read it too as you know when it came out) and I too hope this initiative helps to turn the tide of change.

    I was trying to find out more about Liam’s APPG when I ran across the APPG Beer Group* which made me both hugely angry and deeply sad.

    the Beer APPG is the largest industry group at Westminster. over 300 MPs are members so nearly 50% of the total of 650 MPs. here are its aims:

    ‘to promote the wholesomeness and enjoyment of beer and the unique role of the pub in UK society; to increase understanding of the social, cultural and historic role of brewing and pubs in the UK, and their value to tourism; to broaden recognition of the contribution of brewing and pubs to employment and to the UK economy; to promote understanding of the social responsibility exercised by the brewing and pub industries; to support the UK’s brewing industry worldwide, and to promote a positive future for beer and the pub.’

    in a report to the Treasury Select Committee the Beer APPG recommended that the minimum age for purchasing of alcohol be reduced and that alcohol duty be reduced.

    interestingly the Chairman of the Beer APPG is in favour of minimum pricing** – presumably as a counter to the supermarkets pricing of alcohol in favour of the pub trade.

    just so we are all aware that the drinks industry funded a parliamentary committee to the tune of £50,000*** in 2014…. good luck, Liam!

    *http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/All-Party_Parliamentary_Beer_Group

    ** http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Legal/Legislation/The-Big-Interview-Andrew-Griffiths-MP-chair-All-Party-Parliamentary-Beer-Group

    ***http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/corporate-funding-of-all-party-groups-next-big-scandal-after-huge-rise-under-the-coalition-9391286.html

    1. Oh Prim thank you for linking this – as angry & sad as it makes me too 🙁 How on earth is lowering the age for purchasing alcohol going to help addiction rates? Wouldn’t it be nice if rather than funding APPG’s the drinks industry used that money to fund rehab beds …….

  2. He speaks so eloquently about this issue. I hope more people listen and actually ‘hear’ what he’s saying…x

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