Teenage mum poster sparks row over booze warning

The poster which caused Sunderland's Liberal Democrats to express concern.
The poster which caused Sunderland's Liberal Democrats to express concern.

A Sunderland councillor’s accusation that a poster warning young women of the dangers of alcohol is “shockingly misogynist” has been slammed by a political rival charged with protecting the city’s children.

Liberal Democrats have hit out over the poster campaign, which shows a young woman in her school uniform and then again as a young mum with the tagline: “Talk to your daughter about alcohol now, before it starts making decisions for her.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Niall Hodson.

Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Niall Hodson.

Backed by Sunderland City Council and alcohol awareness organisation Balance North East, it is on show as part of a series of posters, including one featuring a boy, and backs a national call for young people to be educated about the dangers and impact drinking can have.

The Lib Dems have raised concerns after spotting the display in Sunderland’s railway station.

Coun Niall Hodson, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat Group, said: “In their rush to de-normalize and stigmatize alcohol use, Sunderland City Council have needlessly targeted young women in a shockingly misogynist way, suggesting to parents that if you don’t ‘help her make the right decisions’ your daughter will be some kind of victim.

“The poster depicts a young mother looking miserable.

Why does the campaign blame girls for the actions of people who abuse them?

Councillor Niall Hodson

“It says it is likely young women drinking alcohol will have decisions made for them, will be ‘pressurized into having unsafe sex’ and that they need help to ‘make the right choices.’

“Why would you want to reinforce these negative stereotypes?

“What on earth does this say about young women’s agency in 2018, and why do they feel the need to depict pregnancy and young mothers so negatively?

“I thought we were past this nonsense.

Councillor John Kelly, potrtfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture.

Councillor John Kelly, potrtfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture.

“The undercurrent of victim-blaming in the campaign is problematic too.

“If a woman is ‘pressurized’ into having sex it is not her fault nor down to alcohol.

“Why does the campaign blame girls for the actions of people who abuse them?

“If the council want to encourage parents to talk with their children about alcohol that’s great, but there is no need for them to denigrate young women while they’re at it.”

The other poster from the campaign, featuring a boy, urging parents to discuss alcohol issues with their children.

The other poster from the campaign, featuring a boy, urging parents to discuss alcohol issues with their children.

But Councillor John Kelly, cabinet member for health, wellbeing and culture, hit back and branded the Lib Dems’ comments as “tripe” and “political point scoring” on the back of health issues.

He said the campaign is part of efforts by the public health team in the city as it tackles underage drinking and teenage pregnancy rates, which have both been highlighted as prevalent issues in the city.

“We have a significant problem in Sunderland with young people suffering because of the consequences of alcohol and some of the highest figures in the country for alcohol-related illnesses,” he said.

“For the Lib Dems to target one poster, which is one of a series of posters, shows they are using this for political gain.

“We have got to protect our young people.

“We raise awareness about alcohol, smoking and cigarettes and safe sex and Sunderland’s public health department is not political, it is there for the people of Sunderland.”

Colin Shevills of Balance.

Colin Shevills of Balance.

SHOCKING STATS FOR SUNDERLAND

The latest figures show the youngest person to seek medical help related to drinking last year was just 10-years-old.

The child was treated by City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust for alcohol-specific hospital admissions, while an 11-year-old was the youngest to be helped by the Youth Drug and Alcohol Project (YDAP).

The year before, the youngest both organisations saw was 12.

Sunderland City Council says these statistics show its work to hit home the message to families about the danger of drink are the reason why it has backed the poster campaign, which is part of a nationwide awareness campaign.

It says alcohol is one of the individual risk factors closely associated with teenage conceptions, which lead to “disproportionately poor outcomes for young parents and their children, across the spheres of health, education, economy and wellbeing.”

In Sunderland in 2015, the latest statistics available, show one in 30 15 to 17-year-old girls became a parent, the sixth highest rate of teenage conceptions in England.

The rate of teenage conceptions in Sunderland in 2015 was 34.6 per 1,000 population of 15 to 17 years.

In the same period the North East rate was 28 and in England it was 20.8.

The rate of under 16 conceptions in Sunderland in 2015 was 8.5 per 1,000 population aged 13 to 15 years, compared to a rate of 6.2 in the North East and 3.7 in England.

The rate of 8.5 per 1,000 in Sunderland is the third highest rate in England.

In 2015/16 Sunderland, had the highest rate in England for alcohol-specific hospital admissions for those aged under 18.

Although there are variations in the admission rate between gender and single year age groups – the rate is highest among young men 15 years of age, and girls in 14 years and under.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “This campaign is in no way intended to be misogynistic, or blame or shame anyone.

“It is a genuine attempt to encourage parents of young people to think about the consequences and have a conversation with their children about alcohol sooner rather than later.

“The campaign depicts a male and a female teenager and it is based on insight that many parents are unaware of the very clear evidence that children aged 11 to 15 are more likely to drink at risky levels if their parents allow them to drink alcohol.”