Alcohol, crime, and the government fiddling the figures

The government is, once again, taking us for fools. Using the usual misinformation, it's trying to tell us what to drink and how to live our lives

Are we looking at a serious way to prevent crime or a tax on the poor?
David Atherton
On 30 July 2012 10:16

I hope you had an opportunity to catch my article ‘Want to live longer? Drink more alcohol’ on the positive medical effects of moderate drinking, especially for the Western world’s number one killer, heart disease.

Despite this, world and the UK governments still want to bring consumption down. The World Health Organization is trying to get a legally binding treaty from United Nations for a “Framework Convention on Alcohol Control.”Politicians are all too ready to embrace Professor Vivienne Nathanson’s (The BMA’s Director of Professional Activities) belief that “…we need tough legislation to tackle the damage caused by alcohol.”

As always I am grateful to Dick Puddlecote and Chris Snowdon for their original research. Firstly let me confirm in 2007 the Office of National Statistics (ONS) produced an “Updated method of converting volumes to units.” The net effect was that “Overall, the proposed changes increase average weekly alcohol consumption in 2005 by 32 per cent, from 10.8 units to 14.3 units.”

The ONS claim the reason is because of “increases in the size of glass in which wine is served on licensed premises; the increased alcoholic strength of wine; better estimates of the alcoholic strengths of beers, lagers and ciders.” Cynics amongst up might suggest it is a ruse to create more “problem drinkers” and a stick to beat them with. 

Or perhaps to give the health lobby and politicians an excuse to hand out more unrequested advice and needless legislation, when the startling fact is that we are drinking far less these days as a nation.When it comes to EU Alcohol consumption  per head the UK is mid table with the Portuguese and Spanish drinking more than us. Luxembourg wins gold as the drinking capital of the world with silver and bronze going to France and Ireland.

In the UK alcohol consumption reached its peak around 2002 and has noticeably declined. Published in 2010 the ONS found that: “Following an increase between 1998 and 2000, there has been a decline since 2002 in the proportion of men drinking more than 21 units a week, on average, and in the proportion of women drinking more than 14 units.” 

Also: “This trend seems to be continuing under the new methodology; between 2006 and 2009 the proportion of men drinking more than 21 units a week fell from 31 per cent to 26 per cent and the proportion of women drinking more than 14 units a week fell from 20 per cent to 18 per cent.”

 The total average weekly consumption across all age groups and sexes has fallen from 13.5 units to 11.9 from 2006 to 2009 and the percentage of people who never drink has risen from just over 10 percent in 1998 to 15 percent in 2009.

So much for a nation of street-vomiting, binge drinkers.

Not only that, the relative price of alcohol has risen.The National Health Service report “Statistics on Alcohol, England”, 2009, concluded:“Between 1980 and 2008, the price of alcohol increased by 283.3%. After considering inflation (at 21.3%), alcohol prices increased by 19.3% over the period.”

As living standards have risen it may be fair in excess of inflation and to say that we have more disposable income to spend. However it is not ‘pocket money’ prices and taxation is very high.

It seems, in conclusion, a wonder why the Scottish Parliament and elements of the British Parliament are so keen on minimum priced alcohol. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP Secretary for Health, is in the vanguard for passing a 50p a unit minimum price on alcoholThis would mean a bottle of whisky will rise to £14.00 and a bottle of wine will cost around £4.88. Strong, dry cider will rise from £1.80 to £4.67 for 4 x 440ml, and some lager from £2.24 to £4.00 for 4x 500ml. It seems a tax on the poor.

The law passed on June 29th of this year with a rationale based on the belief that "Tackling alcohol misuse is one of the most important public health challenges that we face in Scotland." Sheffield University’s Alcohol Research Unit estimates 60 less alcohol related deaths a year, 1,600 less hospital admissions and savings of £64 million.” Hardly convincing numbers.

The report goes on to say that annual spending for “moderate”, “hazardous” and “harmful” drinkers “are estimated at £11, £65 and £148 respectively which equates to an additional spend per week of £0.22, £1.25 and £2.83.”

The harmful levels are described as 10-30 units a day, which is real alcoholism. So someone consuming 20 units of Blackthorn cider spends £24 a day, £168 a week. Is £2.83 going to make a difference or will food, utilities spending and/or other economies go down instead?

Also, the original price for the minimum price was 45p not 50p, how long before it is raised further? Help may be at hand as, under European Law, it may well be illegal and the Scottish Whisky Association is challenging. Many, I am sure, will wish them luck.

Nevertheless if all else fails I can see a new nation of vintners and brew masters. While it still remains legal and while stocks last you can buy beer, wine making and even vodka making kits. Beer works out at 15p a pint and a bottle of wine 60p.  

Finally, crime. While acknowledging that there is some domestic and street violence associated with drinking, I believe it is at best exaggerated and overstated. I have been going to pubs for over thirty years and even wracking my brains cannot remember a fight breaking out. This covers posh wine bars through to the roughest of back street boozers.

I am sure some towns and cities do have problems. However, existing laws and punishments are more than sufficient. There is a specific offence of drunk and disorderly and a night in the cells with sick all down your clothes should you wish to give the average yob a lesson.

In fact there is evidence that street crime has gone down. Dick Puddlecote’s Freedom of Information Act Request found in the Metropolitan Police areas “how many people have been arrested for 'drunk and disorderly' since 2001”. The answer is startling.

2001 - 12138
2002 - 11915
2003 - 11069
2004 - 9688
2005 - 6541
2006 - 5718
2007 - 5142
2008 - 5149
2009 - 5232
2010 – 4516

Yes public drunkenness has declined in London by 66 percent in 10 years.

I do urge you to read Chris Snowdon’s submission on behalf of the Institute of Economic Affairs on minimum priced alcohol; it is a tour de force.

If I may conclude, as usual, the government is taking us for fools: misinformation; the desire to tell us how to live our lives; unintended consequences; and the slippery slope. At least the vast majority of us can stare down at our pint, glass of wine, or gin and tonic with the cleanest of consciences.

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20

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