The new alcohol strategy has recently been released by the UK government. The focus of the strategy is how the problem of binge drinking can be tackled. This would include the implementation of a minimum price for certain types of alcohol.As has been mentioned previously in this blog, the government has begun to take action against binge drinking and the related costs that alcohol inflicts upon UK society. The new alcohol strategy, (which can be read in full here) proposes a number of changes including the creation of a minimum price for alcohol in supermarkets. The Scottish parliament and certain counties in northern England have already begun their own separate investigations into how to best curb the dangerous and destructive nature of binge drinking.
David Cameron explains at the beginning of the government document linked to above that, “Binge drinking is not some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country. The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear in our communities.”
Medical statistics back up his claims. Last year alone there were roughly one million reported cases of alcohol related violent crime. Alcohol was also responsible for 1.2 million hospital admissions. Mr Cameron claims that a simple minimum price on alcohol could lead to 50,000 fewer crimes and 900 fewer deaths per year.
As referenced by Mr Cameron one of the most divisive issues involved in the government’s proposal is the implementation of a minimum cost for certain types of alcohol. The expected minimum price of 40 pence will only affect certain discount alcoholic drinks. For instance a can of strong lager containing at least three units of alcohol would see a price rise from 75p to £1.20. Likewise a £2.99 bottle of red wine would, under the new government plans, cost £3.76.
Home Secretary Teresa May in a BBC interview defended this proposal by explaining that, “Too many people think it’s a great night out to get really drunk and have a fight in our streets. What we need to do is set a price that is actually going to ensure that we don’t damage responsible drinkers. People who like a drink of two, who like going down to their local pub, have nothing to fear from this policy.”
Minimum alcohol pricing will face obstacles to its implementation. Doubts about the policy have been raised in the past due to the fact that it could potentially come into conflict with existing European competition laws. Spokesmen from the drinks industry expect to present a legal challenge to any attempt to impose a minimum price. In response to Teresa May’s claims Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium said, “It is a myth to suggest that supermarkets are the problem or that a pub is somehow a safer drinking environment. Effectively a minimum price is a tax on responsible drinkers.”
Commenter’s from other fields have chimed in with their support for minimum pricing. Chief Constable Jon Stoddart said, “Week in, week out, in town centres across the country the police have to deal with the consequences of cheap alcohol and irresponsible drinking.”
Despite the potential furore over the minimum price of alcohol, the government’s proposal also contains a number of simpler solutions. The range of powers available to local communities to tackle people and establishments with a history of problem drinking would be expanded. These would include a restriction on opening hours and the ability to lessen the density of establishments serving alcohol. Bars and clubs could also be made to supplement the costs of policing drunken behaviour and the strain faced by hospitals.
These are encouraging signs from the government. Responsible drinking is one of life’s pleasures and hopefully these new measures would not infringe on those people who consume alcohol in moderation. While some groups may voice their outrage that this is yet another example of government over-reach they must also recognise that this new policy will not criminalise someone’s right to drink in excess if they so choose. Instead, the government’s new policy is taking important steps to combat what has been a problem in our towns and cities for a long time. Binge drinking is dangerous to the individual and destructive to society at large. The fact that city centres become no-go areas for many people at night during the weekend speaks to the fact that this is an issue that must be addressed.