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In the drunk tank

The latest government plans to tackle binge drinking? Bring in the drunk tanks and a minimum pricing limit.

Drunk tanks are designed to stop the antisocial behaviour of those who have overly indulged, potentially to prevent harm to others and themselves. The idea that removing them from the streets will mean less drunken behaviour on the streets, and by assumption lower A&E admissions.  According to the Cameron, £2.7 billion is the cost to the NHS of binge drinking. However, this does not take into account the revenue raised from duty and vat on alcohol as pointed out this morning by Pete Brown on Twitter: ‘Spurious ‘cost’ of drink to NHS: £2.7bn. Real govt revenue from duty and VAT on drink: £15,8bn. Funny how papers don’t report that last bit.’ And also that ‘Govt last week announced it’s changing how alcohol-related admissions are calculated cos they know it’s wrong. But quoting those figs today’. Pete also points us to this article at Political Scrapbook about how Mr Cameron earned £84,000 from bar chain Tiger Tiger – one of those bars well known for selling cheap booze.

I do wonder about the logic of locking a group of hammered people up in a cell together where they can argue and fight, is that really a good idea? What if someone becomes ill, or is injured whilst in the drunk tank – presumably they become the responsibility of the police force who have detained them. And these temporary cells to be used as drunk tanks… where will these come from? It’s been reported in the past that our police cells are already over crowded to help ease prison overcrowding. In this age of austerity, spending cut backs in the public sector just where is the funding for this going to come from – oh yes! The tax payer – you and I.

The minimum price per unit has been debated with plenty of arguments for and against. Tandleman’s Beer Blog discussed it on Monday, basically stating that those who want to get out of their minds on alcohol will continue to do so anyway, by whatever means. Worrying reports such as this one  issued by Liverpool council warning about ‘fake’ vodka – an industrial alcohol unfit for human consumption – masquerading as a budget supermarket offering, are becoming increasingly common. The fact that people are going to the bother or producing these ‘fake’ alcohols would suggest there’s a market for them. A minimum price is not going to do a jot to help this situation, it is only going to make it worse.

I don’t know what the answer is. Some would say education. The % of the population who smoke has gradually fallen from around 65% for men and  40% for women in 1948 to around 20% for both sexes today according to Cancer Research. I am sure some of this is down to education, and awareness of the health risks associated with smoking. Are we going to see similar kinds of warnings on alcohol labels, a ban on advertising alcoholic drinks. It’s unfortunate, it’s the few that abuse alcohol that ruin it for the rest of us. It’s also true that many who abuse alcohol in their late teen and early 20s generally grow out of it. I am speaking in broad terms here.

I don’t really understand the big proclamations that the government are coming out with. According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, and their own publication on binge drinking  the average weekly alcohol units per week have fallen since 1998. The % of the populace drinking more than the recommended limits have fallen. I am sure there may be fluctuations in this trend within age groups, but the general trend is downwards. So why the big announcements today? As for the impact on the NHS (this is a Scottish Study, I couldn’t find the details of UK as a whole), ‘There has been a fall in the number of alcohol-related discharges from general acute hospitals in Scotland between 2008/09 and 2009/10; the number of alcohol-related discharged declined from 41,977 to 39,278.’ Taken from ISD Scotland. So it doesn’t stack up. Binge drinking is on the decline, hospital discharges related to alcohol are falling as well. Why decide to take a ‘stand’ now?

Could this be an excuse to ramp up the revenue received from alcohol duty and VAT? Any more rises are going to really put the squeeze on many breweries, distilleries, pubs, bars, off-licenses and restaurants around the UK. At a time when this industry needs help, not more taxation, I can only fear what the latest knee jerk reaction will be to these so called revelations from Mr Cameron. We need growth in the UK to help us out of these awful economic times, not snuffing out what remains with taxation.

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