Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The UK - Abusers of Alcohol? (Part One).

There has been much in the media of late regarding the minimum pricing of alcohol and Scotland, Wales and twelve councils in Greater Manchester are moving towards this. The Welsh Assembly Government would like to take charge of rules surrounding alcohol sales, this including licensing hours, advertising and minimum pricing and would involve devolving the Licensing Act 2003. The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 came into effect on 1st September 2009 and minimum pricing is set to be introduced next year.

It would appear that David Cameron, who initially stated that (minimum pricing) would impact only on those on a low income and he would not give his support to it, has changed his mind and is bending to what he sees as a shift in public opinion, publicly backing Greater Manchester Councils plans to bring in minimum pricing."Healthy Nudges" (HN) as commissioned by the Facullty of Public Health only a week before. The same questions pertaining to minimum pricing received a different response, that is: For: 45% (HN) as opposed to 40%. Against: 44% (HN) as opposed to 47%. Don't know: 11% (HN) as opposed to 13%.

There are concerns however, regarding the legality of minimum pricing, as both the UK government and legal experts believe there is a possibility that it breaks European competition law.

Furthermore, the Home Office attempted to resurrect the consultation paper on the previous goverments' drug strategy for England, Wales and Scotland. This paper proposed that those addicted to drugs and alcohol could have their welfare benefits withdrawn if they refused treatment. The Labour government intended to carry out pilot schemes this year in an attempt to get those with drug and alcohol addictions back into work. However in May, the Social Security Advisory Committee, which is an independent statutory body, said withdrawing benefits would lead to crime and prostitution. The coalition government scrapped the pilot scheme.

It is interesting to note that the media focused almost entirely on those addicted to drugs and it would appear that drug addiction is more socially acceptable than alcohol addiction. It is important to note that those who drink in a harmful or hazardous way - an estimated 24% of the adult population, far outnumber (both casual and addicted) drug users - an estimated 1 - 50.

It is my intention to focus on alcohol abuse.

YouGov published another one of its wonderful surveys entitled SixthSense which dealt with issues surrounding alcohol. It found that 47% or respondents were against a minimum price (50p) per alcohol unit and 40% were for it. It also found that 78% of UK adults admitted that a minimum price would have no effect on the amount of alcohol they drink and 45% of those who visit pubs on a regular basis, would buy alcohol at the supermarket and drink it at home, because of the cost. The total number of respondents was 2152 and a large majority drank alcohol.

It is interesting to compare this survey with that of

It is obvious that the bias of responders alters the outcome and therefore both surveys lack validity. Both had small sample sizes, yet YouGov and the Faculty of Public Health seem content to accept the findings as representative of the country as a whole. As YouGovs own survey contradicted the survey commmisssioned by the FPH - it is suprising that they published it!

There can be no doubt that the UK appears to have an 'alcohol problem' with an estimated 24% of adults drinking in a hazardous or harmful way. I do wonder why the government introduced the extended licensing hours in 2005. It was suggested that binge drinking was fuelled by the desire to drink as much as possible by 11pm closing time and with a more relaxed approach, it was hoped that we, the public, would develop a 'cafe culture' to alcohol consumption. Suprise, surprise, it hasn't happened!

Perhaps the real reasoning was to top up the treasury coffers?

Last week showed what appeared to be conflicting reports: The Beer and Pub Association stated that 2009 saw the sharpest decline in alcohol consumption across the board since 1948. This figure was based primarily on data supplied by HM Revenue and Customs, detailing the amount of alcohol sold by producers and importers into the UK market. The Institute of Alcohol Studies also show a decrease in alcohol consumption in recent years.

There were also reports of the increase in alcohol related deaths and hospital admissions. Professor Bellis, director of the North West Public Health Observatory, reporting "The English death toll from alcohol now exceeds 15,500 people every year. It is time to recognise that we are not a population of responsible drinkers with just a hand full of irresponsible individuals ruining it for others."

So it would appear that indeed, we do have a problem - but would a minimum price for alcohol units help on hinder the 'hidden victims' of alcohol dependence? For these hidden victims exist and most of us are totally unaware of them!

Part two will focus on the drinking habits of our nation and the increase in alcohol related (ill)health conditions and death and the financial cost involved.

I feel I must declare that while writing this post - I have been drinking alcohol. It is a fine thing when treated with respect. I am not saying I have never abused it!

Anna G.

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