March 12, 2012 by Nash Riggins
There is a “scandal” gripping Britain, and it’s costing an already-besieged NHS nearly £2.7 billion every year. The culprit, quite predictably, is alcohol. Luckily for the British taxpayer, however, David Cameron is prepared to take on the role as the nation’s foremost moral compass by proposing a series of solutions to the UK’s apparent alcoholism; yet the root of the problem may lay far deeper than Mr Cameron is able to dig.
There is no question that Britain reinforces its own identity as a massive drinking culture; in international polls, the UK and Russia were among the few names that popped up more than frequently when citizens of the world were asked “which countries do you think consume the most alcohol?” Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming response from Britain’s working class to these accusations appeared in the form of a less-than cordial and resounding “so what?” However, crime statistics indicate that Britain would indeed be a far safer and happier place if its citizens learned to control their frequent habit of binge drinking.
In a land where over 53% of violent acts are committed by intoxicated citizens, there is absolutely no room for dispute regarding whether alcohol is an issue in British society – arguments can be made in defence of fun and isolated incidents, yet it would be inconceivably daft to assert that crime and injury would not be easier to avoid given the utilisation of self-control. In fact, it is estimated that over 210,000 British citizens will die as the result of alcohol-related disease, violence or accidents within the next twenty years.
“Well I drink all the time and never commit any crimes or end up in hospital,” you may find yourself protesting. Yet as far as the Prime Minister is concerned, every regular drinker is a potential threat both to themselves as well as others, and in the wake of this muddled and self-righteous epiphany, Mr Cameron’s new war on alcohol has begun.
The Prime Minister has not only called for a vast increase in the amount of free transportation made available to the country’s countless stumbling and bumbling after-hours citizens, but he has also declared that a stronger police presence can and must appear in NHS hospitals after hours. The latter would no doubt be a legitimate solution in order to decrease alcohol-related violence, had the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Paul McKeever, not pointed out, ”We are already trying to cope with 20% cuts to our budgets imposed on us from the Prime Minister and his Government. We simply do not, and will not, have the police officers or the resources to assist the health service with protecting properties such as hospitals.”
Well, there goes that idea! Moving on, Mr Cameron’s primary focus in his war on alcohol appears to be the notion that the government should establish a minimum price for all alcoholic beverages. Somewhere deep inside the palace of an oil-hungry Saudi Arabian prince, Alex Salmond is grinning and telling the world how “progressive” Scotland is for bringing up this issue years before the English – but that’s neither here nor there.
Mr Cameron has always prided himself on his firm opposition towards establishing regulatory solutions to health issues, yet it appears he will at long last buckle under the pressure of lobbyists. What he may not be aware of, however, is that his proposal of outlawing the sale of alcohol below retail price will have no effect on Britain’s rampant alcoholism.
In a recent study conducted throughout the greater Newcastle-area, researchers found that less than 2% of alcoholic beverages were being sold below the average retail price, indicating that, if anything, shoppers should be livid with Tesco for overcharging them for their daily booze. Yet it has become apparently clear that no one is under-charging for alcohol, so where does this leave Mr Cameron?
While the PM is championing his ineffective minimum price proposal, many of the nation’s scientists and activists are proposing more viable – though admittedly, more radical – approaches toward tackling the issue of Britain’s alcoholism. The forerunner of these ideas, being pitched by the British Medical Association, is to subtly make the nation’s drinks weaker.
Much in the same way that the food industry has been forced to reduce the amount of salt and saturated fats in its products, the nation’s doctors would gladly see the ABV of beers in the UK categorically reduced over a relatively long period of time. Yet those speaking for the brewing industry argue that beer is not the problem, and focus should be instead shifted toward stronger wines and spirits.
Setting aside the catastrophic suggestion of watering down spirits in the factory, the primary proposed solution where spirits are concerned is to heavily increase taxation on alcohol based upon its ABV. Yet the trivial nature of Britain’s issue with alcohol is fuelled further still by the revelation that our government already taxes twelve times more on alcoholic beverages than the majority of Britain’s less-afflicted European neighbours.
While the rest of Europeans appear to be more or less reared from birth with a firm but cautious appreciation of alcohol, health officials in the UK will always make arguments that the drinking age in Britain should be raised from 18 to 21. This change has made visible effects in the amount of alcohol being consumed by minors in the United States: why? To be frank, 21 year-olds typically look more like adults, whereas 16 year-olds can effortlessly pass for 18. Yet as the issue of off-license shops selling to minors will never be manageably regulated, a legislative solution toward the amount of binge drinking being committed by minors remains a bit of a dead-end.
Indeed, the best solutions toward tackling British alcoholism may be more social than regulatory. First and foremost, the pub’s rightful place as a drinker’s primary source of alcohol should be reinstated. The amount of alcohol sold in bulk by supermarkets has drastically overtaken the amount of drinks being consumed in licensed establishments, which most likely accounts for a simultaneous increase in anti-social behaviour in Britain. Even in most pubs, a tiny element of social decorum is maintained, not to mention there is a presence of trained and sober staff members, who are able to tell drunks exactly when they’ve had enough.
Likewise, further regulation of the way in which alcohol is marketed could stand to limit the industry’s portrayal of drinkers as ‘cool and care-free.’ That’s not to say that prime-time advertising campaigns should begin to vividly depict the long and painful death of liver disease; however, there have been numerous successful public service announcements regarding alcohol that have not been campaigned actively enough. Mr Cameron’s government would indeed benefit from increasing funding toward the COI rather than slicing their budgetary demands in order to compensate for the UK’s foreign wars.
It’s been quite some time since anyone has casually referred to the Prime Minister’s idea of a “Big Society,” yet it seems this new moral war may be Mr Cameron’s attempt to once more show British citizens ‘just how much he cares.’ More than likely, however, this move could in all actuality be a futile attempt in order to illustrate to Scottish voters just how progressive and caring Westminster really is (ie vote ‘no’ in 2014). Either way, however, it looks as if Mr Cameron has bit off far more than he can chew.
Alcoholism is one of the leading problems in British society; in fact, it’s also one of the most ignored problems in British society. It is commendable that Mr Cameron’s government should actively pursue potential solutions toward Britain’s alcoholic tendencies, albeit perhaps for the wrong reasons, yet establishing a minimum price for alcohol is not the way to go about doing it.
Charging more for liquor won’t stop teens from drinking, nor will it stop drunken workies from patrolling the city centre in search of a fistfight. If David Cameron wants to make a fundamental change in British society, he must first come to terms with the fact that it’s not as simple as forbidding corner shops from advertising ‘buy two, get one free’ alcohol promotions. This is a social problem that runs far deeper than our pocketbooks, and the sooner MPs realise this, the sooner our country will at long last be able to stride forward in the name of progress.