Is minimum alcohol pricing a magic arrow to binge drinking or is there more to it? A blogpost with more questions than answers.
“I like drinks, not drunks” is my general attitude towards alcohol. As with many teenagers I went through a stage of drinking and clubbing. The really strange thing is that some of the councillors in my local area who were struggling with binge and teenage drinking in the mid 1990s are still around now…thinking that further clamp downs will have the desired effect. The only impact I can recall of pubs and bars being strict on “ID” were that they drove teenagers into the hands of drug dealers. During the mid-1990s it was easier for me to get hold of illegal drugs than it was alcohol. The law of unintended consequences?
The problems related to alcohol – domestic violence, anti-social behaviour, addiction, health problems, family breakdown etc are well-known. I don’t intend to go into detail in this piece – primarily because I don’t have much direct experience of the above. (For which I’m grateful).
Isn’t this part of a broader strategy?
It is – but the minimum pricing (as often happens with these things – think “Granny Tax” and The Budget of 2012) is the thing that’s caught the headlines. This is part of the Home Office’s new alcohol strategy. One interesting part of it is this:
We will also end the notion that drinking is an unqualified right without any associated sense of responsibility. [Para 3.19]
The whole of that paragraph is worth reading, and it will be interesting to see what the results of the pilots will be.
From an anecdotal personal experience, two of the things that seem to be missing are a focus on bars. In particular those that have few seats and stupendously loud music. In a bar that plays loud music where there are no seats but where it has no licence for dancing (& no dance floor), there’s little else to do but drink. (You’re allowed unamplified morris dancing but it seems that’s about it). A brief internet search has come up with a couple of studies on loud music too. (See here & here). I can’t say I found the experience of going to such bars incredibly enjoyable or stimulating. More a case of standing around with drinks in hand ‘being cool’. (I’m not cool. Never have been. Never will be. My best friend’s an effing dragon fairy. How can I be!?!? My point on the above is whether the Government should be looking to gather evidence on bars in particular.
One of the things we have now that we did not have in times gone by is data – lots of it – along with the power to process it far faster. A basic example of this is the police’s crime maps. Does the power of data allow public authorities to go after those establishments that demonstrate a higher number of alcohol-related offences associated with their activities? If so, how should public authorities respond?
On cafe culture
There has been much spin and hype around the Licensing Act 2003 to reduce some of the drinking restrictions. The aim was to deliver cafe culture France stylee. Unintended consequences again? Was the mindset of turning us all into continental philosophers reading a book by Descartes while sipping on a glass of red & smoking a cigarillo in the bright warm sunshine never going to work in the rain shadow of the Western England?
Types of alcohol, types of people and types of establishments
I’m throwing in some ideas for discussion here more than anything else. Should the “all or nothing” mindset of “you can’t buy alcohol until you’re 18 but when you are you can buy whatever you like” be looked at? Should there be a lower age limit for weaker alcoholic drinks but higher ones for spirits? Should people under 18 be allowed to drink in pubs if they are, say accompanied by a responsible adult over the age of…say 25? Should some there be licensing for such establishments to enable under 18s to drink in them so long as say they were having a meal and with a responsible adult? Or is this the state micromanaging to a ridiculous extent?
Pubs vs Supermarkets
The struggle that many pubs are facing is often reported – especially locally when a pub is at risk of closure. The challenge for the Coalition is one of joined-up-government. Can they join up policy on tackling binge drinking & minimum pricing with one that can help save community pubs? I’d like to think that it can, but I fear the lobbying power of the supermarkets and the drinks industry will put more than a few spanners in the works…as well as the inefficiencies of a machine as big as the Whitehall policy machine.
Who to consult?
The drinkers for a start. For they are the ones who (along with the police and emergency services) see the consequences of binge drinking on a regular basis. I’d guess that many people on a night out don’t want to end up in a fight, in casualty or in the gutter. Getting drunk is one thing, ending up in a state of physical harm is quite another. You never know, it might just be that some innovative solutions come from (in particular the young) people in who witness the negative impacts weekend-in-weekend out.