By Gabe Trodd
So, the vision was quite a nice one, I guess: an accessible, continental café bar culture with a British twist. Since 1997, Britain has definitely come a long way. We have great food, cool fashion, free admission to national museums and galleries to see world-renowned art, and Labour’s smoking ban has been a success.
But there’s no doubt about it, binge-drinking and alcohol-related crime is an issue, and will be at the next election. Most British people understand only too well that people who abuse alcohol are much more likely to be involved in an accident or assault, be charged with a criminal offence or contract sexually transmitted diseases.
The problem is that the Westminster response has often been quick-fixes – mandatory codes, booze ASBOS, Alcohol Disorder Zones, etc. At present, minimum pricing policies are being called for, which although might be effective, could possibly penalise those on low incomes.
This week, the debate has gone like this. Alan Johnson announced a crackdown on irresponsible retailers. From April, pubs, clubs and bars will be barred from offering “all you can drink for 10 pounds”-style promotions, as well as events like speed drinking competitions, and the measures will also include forcing pub landlords to ask for identification proving that drinkers are over 18. Chris Grayling is proposing to raise taxes on super-strength beer and cider.
These responses are OK, but I think there are three longer-term, progressive responses to UK binge-drinking, which could be explored further by Labour:
Firstly, we could firmly define the market for the better, starting with advertising. Drinks companies spend no less than £800 million a year on advertising. I think sponsorship of sports and the arts by alcohol firms can be particularly troubling.
Secondly, Labour can empower British kids with the self-esteem and education that’s necessary to stay out of trouble. Thinkers at Demos, for example, have previously flagged up programmes such as the USA’s Life Skills Training, which aims to reduce alcohol and substance abuse through classroom-based education. Targeted at teenagers, the programmes have helped to reduce alcohol and substance abuse by 50-75%. And, yes, it’s cheap to deliver: every dollar spent on the programme saves the government in the long-term through reductions in crime.
Thirdly, putting alcohol out of reach when it’s so engrained into British culture means we need to provide alternative things to do. More youth services and activities produced in consultation with young people are needed now more than ever. We need big, bold, accessible, high-profile responses, with young people having their say.
In the face of hysterical, sensationalist reporting by the media, and ludicrous scare-mongering from Tory politicians, the fact is a high percentage of children and young people lead positive lifestyles, working to achieve better lives for themselves, their peers and wider communities.
But the saddest, and often unspoken, problem with Britain’s complicated relationship with alcohol is the divisions that come about between younger and older people, and the creation of “no-go areas” in the UK. Indeed, one in every four people say they avoid parts of their local area because of alcohol related crime.
This is an area where Labour can lead the way.