Children will feel after-effects if Alcohol Bill fails

The children’s sector throughout Scotland has come together in calling for meaningful minimum pricing for all alcoholic products because we know, first hand, how high the alcohol bill really is for children in this country.

On Wednesday, when MSPs vote on the Alcohol Bill, they will make the most of a golden opportunity, or they will waste it. You can help ensure the right choice is made.

Overall, it is good legislation that will help Scotland achieve a healthier and less expensive relationship with alcohol. However, its greatest strength – minimum pricing for all alcoholic products – was eliminated by the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee.

Minimum pricing was removed despite overwhelming medical, scientific and economic evidence in favour of this bold move to reduce irresponsible alcohol consumption. We continue to pay an astronomical price for turning a blind eye to alcohol being cheaper than healthier alternatives, even water.

Irresponsible alcohol consumption costs the public an extraordinary amount – from direct health care in A&E departments, hospitalisation and chronic illness, to ongoing social work, police and justice costs for domestic violence and child maltreatment. We pay the Alcohol Bill every day (and will continue to do so into the future).

There are less obvious implications to putting meaningful minimum pricing back into this legislation. The Children’s Hearing Bill, also in its final stages, is seeking to strengthen a system which is under considerable pressure from, among other factors, the fall-out from alcohol.

So many referrals to Children’s Panels involve alcohol-fuelled problems, from the relatively minor havoc wreaked by young people’s own drinking to the extent of the harm caused by the alcohol habits of the adults in their lives. Not only could minimum pricing contribute to a reduction in referrals to the panels, but money saved as a result could be used to better meet the needs of other vulnerable children.

The Scottish Parliament’s powerful Finance Committee is engaged in an excellent and welcome inquiry into preventative spending. This cross-party group of MSPs knows any temptation to cut prevention activities and only fund crisis management is wrong and should be resisted. There is wisdom in investing public funds early on to stop problems happening in the first place, rather than paying more later to fix ones that could have been prevented.

But preventative spending is not the only good alternative. By reinstating minimum pricing into the Alcohol Bill, MSPs will undertake prevention work of huge and enduring significance. The precedent can be seen in our traffic laws, which have had countless positive impacts; saving lives, avoiding injuries and property damage – and saving a fortune in public spending and private insurance.

Putting meaningful minimum pricing back into the Alcohol Bill will save scarce public funds, contribute to a healthier Scotland, help to improve the Children’s Hearings System and strengthen work to promote prevention. Together, these actions will result in better childhoods.

All is takes now is for politicians to come together to put the national interest above party political interests. You can help by contacting MSPs and encouraging them to stand shoulder to shoulder across party lines to give us the Alcohol Bill that Scotland needs and Scotland’s children and young people deserve. The vote is on Wednesday, but the impact, good or bad, will last for years.

Dr Bronwen Cohen is chief executive of Children in Scotland,