The UK government is of the opinion that our society has developed some dangerous habits when it comes to alcohol. These habits cause undue strain on our hospitals and police forces. To combat these problems the government plans to release new measures to tackle the UK's drink problem.Many times over the past few months this blog has addressed the issues surrounding the drinking culture in the UK. Despite the fact that many people have one or two stories about when they drank too much, most adults consume alcohol moderately and in a responsible manner. Certain studies also indicate that a couple of glasses of wine a week can be a healthy practise. This article will not comment on that sort of behaviour. Instead the focus shall be on how the government plans to tackle the problems of binge drinking and the damage caused by excessive intake of alcohol to UK society.
Problem drinking is no small problem in this country. It is estimated that the NHS spends £2.7 billion pounds every year treating people who are suffering from some form of alcohol related malady. Visits to the accident and emergency units of UK hospitals for drink related injuries or issues, on their own, creates a bill to the taxpayer of £647 million annually. This is big money. While it would be nearly impossible, (and some would say incorrect) to deny people the right to drink to excess if they so decided; the coalition government is planning measures to attempt to curb dangerous drinking.
Next month the government will release its plans relating to alcohol policy. These are expected to include an attempt to introduce a minimum nationwide price for alcoholic beverages. While this may appear to do little to address excessive drinking, experts disagree. Estimates claim that even a 30p minimum price per unit would decrease alcohol related deaths by 300 every year. A 40p minimum would prevent 1,000 deaths and 50p more than 2,000 deaths per year. Scotland has already proposed a 45p minimum price per unit and some English counties, including Merseyside, are looking into similar bylaws. To give an idea of how this would affect pricing in supermarkets and off-licenses consider the following. A large bottle of cider, currently priced at £1.20 would cost £3.75 with the 45p minimum. A £6.95 bottle of spirits would almost double in price to £11.85.
Regulations on price are not the only measures the government would consider. Introducing American style “drunk tanks” where police do not formally charge revellers but instead place them in a cell until they sober up and are then allowed to leave. This would free up police time to deal with more pressing matters. This extra time could then be used to increase police presence in hospitals. Another option considered would be the creation of what are termed “booze buses” that would provide medical care to drunken people in our city centres.
David Cameron recently said on this issue, “Every night, in town centres, hospitals and police stations across the country, people have to cope with the consequences of alcohol abuse. And the problem is getting worse. Over the last decade we’ve seen a frightening growth in the number of people - many under age – who think it is acceptable for people to get drunk in public in ways that wreck lives, spread fear and increase crime. This is one of the scandals of our society and I am determined to deal with it.”