In November, councillor Jay Hayes met with Rob Stebbings from Adfam to talk about his personal experience of being in a family affected by substance use, and his view on the role local government can play in supporting other families that are impacted by this issue.
Tell us about your experience of being affected by a family member’s substance use
My dad has been drinking since he was 12 years old, he’s now in his 60s. Growing up, only recently have I come to realise how some aspects of my life were different to other people. When my dad would pick me up from primary school on a Friday, instead of going out playing with other kids my age, or to after school clubs, the first point of call was the pub. We would be in the pub until about 7pm, we would then go to the shop to buy some cheap beer, then back home. As I got older, I would stay with my dad at weekends and from age 12 he started buying me and my brother beer as well. He would buy two four-packs of cheap beer, have four to himself after a day at the pub and me and my brother would split the other four. Comparing that to my mother, who would never do that and never drank at home, it was a complete contrast between the two.
It seemed normal growing up, we didn’t see that there was an underlying problem. My brother has since gone on to develop his own problem with drugs after he was made homeless and was sofa surfing. I saw the impact on him too, it became a priority for him, like my dad, it was the number one priority. My dad would prioritise spending money on beer first, shopping second. There were a few instances I remember, where we would come home after the pub, and there would be no food for me and my brother. He rang my mum up, she was so angry. There were times where we had to walk into the city centre, because we couldn’t afford the bus fare because we’d been in the pub the night before.
In what ways has this impacted on you?
When my dad moved away from Nottingham our relationship became more strained. My dad was wanting to be in the pub watching the football, whilst I was doing different things but because they didn’t materialise around his interests, it felt as though he wasn’t interested in what I was doing. We ended up not talking for a long period, around six years or so. For me, I felt better for it because I was away from that environment.
It wasn’t until I saw other kids’ lifestyles that realised it wasn’t normal to be spending hours at the pub at a young age and drinking at home. At secondary school, when other kids started going to the park and trying alcohol for the first time, for me it didn’t feel right because I’d already experienced that at home from a young age. That was in a way a life that I missed, a normal growing up experience that was taken away from me, and I missed out on those friendship and stories you create growing up. Ultimately it turned out for the better and had a big impact on my life.
For me now, it impacts me on the way I manage my money. If I had the choice of staying in or going to the pub, I stay in because I know I’ll have money to buy food, shopping, and get the things that I need. I’ll also never bring alcohol back to the house; it doesn’t feel right. This isn’t a place I want to have alcohol. If I want to have alcohol I want to have it when socialising with friends, not at home on my own.
It also gave me some inspiration, and made me think what can I do not to be like that, and do better? It motivated me to do better and drove me to keep working hard and pushing forward. I didn’t want to be like that and be that person. It also really drove me to stick with education. I failed my GCSEs but then ended up getting an Honours degree. I had to restart my education but had the determination to power through. My dad and brother on the other hand would do odd jobs that they needed to do, not to make ends meet, but to get what they needed for substances or alcohol. They did what they could to get money, not to support themselves but to support their addiction.
Tell us about your motivations and inspirations behind becoming a councillor.
There are so many different aspects as to why I became a councillor.
A lot of the people that I grew up and went to school with, at around ages 15/16 were experimenting with drugs, smoking weed etc., which is not necessarily a problem, but there were a lot of people that never grew out of that. It stuck with them. I felt that I had that lived experience; I’ve been around people who still struggle with it, and those who are devastated by the impact. I felt, in comparison to the person I replaced on the council, I was a better person to be able to step into that position of authority and speak about my own experiences, not jut around substance use but also growing up on benefits, poverty, being a victim of domestic violence. Having all of those experiences as a youngster, I felt that if people I grew up around and other young people in the area see me doing something, it could inspire others too.
I’m now the executive assistant for health and culture on Nottingham City Council and working with the public health team has furthered my understanding around alcohol and drugs and made me think more about my relationship with my dad and brother, and how people view who an alcoholic is. Often people think it’s someone who’s unemployed, sitting in the pub or an armchair all day drinking beer, but there are many people who can drink all night and go to work the next day, and go through the same cycle over and over again. Since working with the public health team, I feel more confident speaking out about my own experience because I understand it more myself, what the causes are, why people are the way they are.
What role can local government play in championing and tackling the issue of substance use and its impact on families?
Locally we can do lots around alcohol licensing which plays a big role in this.
Also looking at potential local campaigns, which could turn into national campaigns, we could be doing more to challenge parents who are buying alcohol with and for young children, and raising those questions.
We also need to look at how we can work better with local authority health partners including the NHS, mental health services, pharmacies shops etc. to identify people affected by these issues and establishing at what local support can be given.
In addition, we need to be training frontline staff, such as social workers so that if they go to a house and spot signs of problematic substance use around children, they know how to raise that safeguarding concern confidently and appropriately.
The most important thing we can do is intervention and prevention. Making families feel that if they do have someone who is addicted to alcohol, they can speak out about it. We need to take away that fear that people could lose their child, which is a big barrier for people seeking help. The fear that if someone admits they are an alcoholic their children could be taken away stops a lot of people. We need to get over that because it’s not true. By asking for help it’s showing you are making those steps and showing that you want a better future for yourself and your kids. We need to do a lot of work around tackling that locally.
Many years ago in Nottingham, to prevent having so many children in care and foster care which comes at a huge cost to the council, we started looking at early intervention work; stopping those children from coming into care, putting resources into family support services and preventing that child from what should be a last resort. We need to widen that more with people suffering from alcohol, drugs and mental health issues. That is the one thing that scares people the most, the fear of their kids being taken away.
What would you like to see change on a local and national level so that families are better recognised and supported?
I previously worked for a short time in Boston, Massachusetts. There was someone there that was alcohol dependent, and they have a law that identifies alcohol as a health issue, rather than as a criminal issue. If you turn up drunk to work, and your employer knew you had a dependence on alcohol, they can turn you away but they can’t sack you. We need something similar here to strengthen that and to look at it as a health issue rather than a choice.
With drugs and possession, I don’t think it’s right to continue to target and criminalise people using drugs. They’re the people that need the intervention and help to get it off. The people supplying the drugs, promoting it and encouraging people to do it are the ones causing the damage and need to be targeted and challenged more.
We also need to do more national campaigning around this issue. The success that has been had around mental health campaigning, around how it’s ok to not feel ok, we need to have similar discussions around substance use, to support people to speak out, whilst having the support network in place to enable people to speak out. We also need more high profile people in Parliament who have experienced it and have a good understanding of it, to ask questions about it and speak out about it.
Looking at children in pubs, I think we should look at introducing age restrictions at certain times in pubs. For me growing up I could be be in a pub until 10pm at times. They need to look at that, and determine what is an appropriate time for a child to be a pub. I can understand family meals etc. but after 6-7pm is it suitable for a seven/eight-year-old to be in the pub at that time with their family? We should think about legislation could be in place to tackle that.
We’ve spoken to a lot of kids in care about the language used and that’s something we can also look at locally with people in recovery, and the language that is used towards them. By using much friendlier language shows a better understanding and is a better way of encouraging people to speak out and access support.
Final thoughts and reflections
In the current climate, with the housing situation and cost of living crisis, things are getting even more challenging and can turn people towards drugs and alcohol even more.
In Nottingham, we made financial wellbeing part of our health and wellbeing strategy, which is important because it plays such an important part. If you are struggling financially, you’re likely to be more stressed, and people in looking for stress release can turn to substances.
There was analysis done around smoking, and that people would save £2,500 per year if they quit smoking. It would be interesting to look at how much it’s costing individual around alcohol and drug consumption and show people what could be done with that money instead. It could reset people’s priorities; realise they could have a better life for their family. With my brother, he was able to turn things around, he’s now got a partner, five kids; now he has his own kids he’s seen the damage it can cause and his priorities are different as a result.
Read the full blog post here.
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