A Conservative minister has promised to produce a new strategy to help the children of alcoholics after she was moved to tears hearing Labour frontbencher Jon Ashworth talk about his father’s drinking.
Nicola Blackwood, the public health minister, praised Ashworth for speaking out, along with Labour former minister Liam Byrne, about their experiences of growing up with an alcoholic parent.
“I hope each member who has spoken today will continue to work with me as we fight to tackle this social injustice,” she said, promising to sit down with MPs to draw up a strategy for tackling the problem.
Ashworth spoke in the debate after talking for the first time about his father’s alcoholism in an interview with the Guardian.
He told MPs: “I am the child of an alcoholic. Throughout my life, I was an only child, in the week I would live with my mum and at the weekends I would live with my dad and my dad would spend the whole weekend drunk.
“From the age of eight or so going to my dad’s meant I was effectively the carer. It was very typical for my dad to pick me up from school and literally fall over because he was so drunk.”
Ashworth recalled having to phone a taxi because his dad could not make the short walk up a street and coming home to find a fridge full of bottles of white wine. He also spoke about the pain of watching his father play in goal in a football match and his workmates shouting: “Jon Ash is in goal, all you have to do is throw a can of Stella and he’ll go for that rather than the ball.”
The shadow health secretary added: “My biggest regret in life is that my dad moved to Thailand when he was about 59. That was that, he just went. Six months later I got married and he promised me he would come to the wedding and the day before he phoned and said he was not coming.
“I was so angry I could hardly speak to him. I wanted him to meet my new wife and meet my new family. A few months later he was dead. I had to go to Thailand to get the body and deal with the funeral.
“The friends he had met over there told me he was drinking a bottle of whisky a day. They told me he couldn’t come to the wedding because he didn’t want to embarrass me.
“We were a working class family from Salford and I had gone to university and become a politician. Posh people would be at the wedding and he felt he would embarrass me by being there. I will always regret that.”
Byrne, the chair of the all-party group of children of alcoholics, said Blackwood’s promise of a government strategy was a breakthrough.
“For over a year we’ve tried to make sure that the voices of children of alcoholics are heard in parliament making the case for change,” he said. “Now the government has listened. The government has agreed to sit down and hammer out a plan. Crucially ministers have agreed with our number one goal: no child of an alcoholic should ever feel alone.”
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