Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Alcohol Education and Research Council’s symposium on home drinking

It would appear that some discussion not motivated by political dogma of the issue of home drinking has been going on ... there are some great statistics from the symposium from research report in Addiction journal, based on interviews with ‘ill drinkers’ in Edinburgh. As reported in the Morning Advertiser.

"The report’s aim is to support the case for minimum pricing by trying to demonstrate that it will have a significant effect among heavy drinkers in reducing their consumption. I’m not sure it succeeds — and neither, for that matter, are its authors — but some fascinating stuff is thrown up in the process.
The interviewees, patients at two hospitals in the city, were very heavy drinkers indeed, sinking an average of nearly 200 units a week, equivalent to 100 pints of cooking bitter or, more realistically but no less frighteningly, a bottle of vodka a day.
Quite a number exceeded 300 units. One managed 800 units. That’s what I call a drink problem. They were paying an average of 43p a unit, comfortably below the 50p a unit touted as a minimum – and that’s only the average. Cheapest unit price paid was 9p – for two-litre bottles of white cider in the supermarket.
Compared with the general Scottish population the patients were paying 29p less per unit and there was a clear inverse correlation between the amount consumed and the price paid for it, right down the line.
If it’s just the ethanol you’re after that’s rational behaviour, of course. And if the report demonstrates anything, it is that drinking at these undoubtedly dangerous levels is largely an off-trade issue.
Only a quarter of respondents bought any drink at all in the pub or club, and on-trade purchases account for a mere 7.4% of total units consumed.
“Our clinical experience,” say the researchers, “acquired unsystematically from drinkers’ self-reports, suggests that it is sometimes preferable for a dependent drinker to drink in a pub or club where there are external controls on the amount consumed and the level of intoxication and also possible mental health benefits of social interaction.”
Intuitively, this has to be correct, but you crave something more scientific to back it up and, as yet, it doesn’t seem to exist. Which is what makes the AERC symposium interesting, and I look forward to reading the briefing paper that comes out of it, to see what I missed.
As for whether minimum pricing, or any other price constraint, can reduce consumption, the report is honest enough to say that we can’t know until we try it. Charging 9p a unit can’t be right. But price is only one factor in a "multiplicity of determinants that cause people to drink like this."
How can HMG ignore such findings and refuse to do something about the reckless behaviour of supermarkets? Still an administration that keeps putting off scrapping Trident (cost estimated to be £25 billion) whilst imposing the biggest cuts in living history to other public services (if you can call Trident a public service) is hardly surprising!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

And so this is Christmas ...

... and what have you done?

A question that many of us will be asking our "political masters" or the Coalitionistas as I like to call them.

So what has this unholy union of Liberals and Tories done for the much-beleaguered UK pub trade in their first six months in office?

Cast your mind back to the "bonfire of the quangoes" - in their unrelenting pursuit of deficit reduction (at all costs save those of their respective vested interests) - the axe was wielded on a couple of hospitality industry bodies - the Alcohol Education Research Council (AERC) and the Security Industry Authority (SIA).

The AERC’s main aims are to: “Generate and disseminate research based evidence to inform and influence policy and practice” and “to develop the capacity of people and organisations to address alcohol issues.”
Both worthy aims and the AERC has, during the last five years, concentrated on family interventions, community action programmes and screening plus brief interventions for alcohol misuse. They are a repository of a vast library of reports and research into the effects of alcohol that both government and industry readily draw upon.
The Coalition’s response to this sterling work? Cut its funding and turn it into a charitable trust – and we know how well charities do during hard times – especially if their not the cuddly / furry types. Good call Mssrs Clegg and Cameron; at least they’ll be able to use dogma and prejudice to determine their alcohol harm reduction policy without the inconvenience of a publicly funded body calling them to account. After all the AERC will just be another bleeding heart charity soon!
This as they do significant U-turns on combating below cost sales of alcohol by the off-trade (most notably the big supermarkets) which are widely accepted to be a major factor in alcohol abuse (from the health lobby to the police); at the same time the government has allowed back-door powers to ban such innocuous promotions such as pub loyalty cards. Could it be that the pub industry doesn’t contribute as much to party coffers as the supermarkets?
Talk about schizophrenic … this as we are all about to suffer an increase in VAT to 20% in the New Year. The supermarkets will undoubtedly swallow up the VAT increase and continue their irresponsible “deep discounting” whilst pubs won’t be in a position to do the same and their prices will inevitably have to rise. I would contend that this will drive more consumers from the safe and supervised environments of pubs into unregulated homes and street corners and the ensuing increase in anti-social behaviour will still be blamed on pubs!
Then there is the SIA – set up to regulate the security industry (including door-supervisors or “bouncers” as they are so charmingly referred to at times) when the industry was unable to “self-regulate” and was rife with thugs and criminals. The SIA has had two main duties: “The compulsory licensing of individuals undertaking certain designated activities” and “To manage the voluntary Approved Contractor Scheme”
These duties have been admirably fulfilled by the SIA since its inception in following the enactment of the Private Security Industry Act 2001. Is this wholly necessary public body to be applauded and receive continued public funding – no of course it’s not! No, the industry is to return to “self-regulation” after the Olympics in 2012 (we’ll need a credible vetting service for the industry for this international event) – shame we didn’t get the World Cup, then it might have survived until 2018! 
I could go on about the Coalitionistas much vaunted review and reform of the licensing regime, their U-turn on live music provision in pubs, the disproportionate burden their pension reforms will have on small businesses such as independent pubs … but I probably lost you way back.
If I didn’t lose you then think on about what sort of society you want to live in, because one without pubs in all their myriad incarnations will be much the poorer for their absence.
Anyway – Bah! Humbug! And All That To You All!