Socialist Worker

Alcohol strategy - unfair and unhelpful attack on the poor

by Phil Mellows
Issue No. 2296

Tory plans to bring in minimum unit pricing for alcohol dominated headlines after the budget.

David Cameron introduced the Government Alcohol Strategy. He talked of a “scourge of violence caused by binge drinking” that “drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem in our streets and spreads fear in our communities”.

The document came out of the Home Office, meaning the drink question had become a matter of law and order rather than health.

The language is similar to that used to describe last summer’s riots.

Young working class people out enjoying themselves are depicted as a feral mob.

Yet over the decade when this anarchy has supposedly raged ever more fiercely, the number of violent offenders under the influence of drink has fallen by 25 percent.

Even as a proportion of total violent crime, which has also been decreasing, alcohol-related offences have dropped to 44 percent from a high of 51 percent in 2004.

Alcohol consumption, too, has declined steadily over same period. It is down 13 percent according to figures based on tax returns or 20 percent according to the Office of National Statistics’ general lifestyle survey.

Illicit

What may be increasing are alcohol-related deaths, although drink is difficult to disentangle from factors such as obesity and poverty.

So although the poorest fifth of the population drink less than the wealthiest fifth, they are six times more likely to die from it.

But instead of targeting the real problem the strategy blames “irresponsibility, ignorance and poor habits”.

Will minimum pricing help? Along with a ban on multi-buys it may curb the practice of saving money by drinking at home before going out.

It will certainly make it harder to afford a party.

More seriously it could further encourage the black market in dangerous counterfeit alcohol. Seizures of illicit liquor have already soared five-fold in the past two years.

And another duty increase of 2 percent above inflation will hurt working class people.

Meanwhile those of Cameron’s class can booze away, blissfully unaffected by any rules they make up for the rest of us.


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Tue 27 Mar 2012, 17:53 BST
Issue No. 2296
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