The deregulation of the supply of alcohol by the last government has done untold harm to millions of individuals and thousands of communities. But in the last couple of months the Coalition Government has missed two great opportunities to turn the tide of alcohol-related harm. But first, the scale of the problem:
Estimated levels of binge drinking in Brighton and Hove is 27.3% of the population (the highest in Sussex).
Alcohol-related hospital admissions per 100,000 of the population are:
- Brighton and Hove 1,708
- Hastings 1,728
- Eastbourne 1,874
- Nationally 1,472
Alcohol-related violent crime per 1,000 of the population are:
- Brighton and Hove 7.1
- Hastings 7.9
- Eastbourne 6.7
- Regionally 5.7
Male deaths from alcohol-related causes per 100,000 of the population:
- Brighton and Hove 25.5
- Hastings 15.1
- Eastbourne 18.5
- Regionally 10.1
The Coalition Government has introduced a minimum price per unit, and I warmly applaud this move. Experts believe that this move will save several hundred lives each year. But if the government had set the minimum price at the level liver these same experts and other health professionals had recommended, tens of thousands of lives would have been saved over the next decade.
The second missed opportunity came yesterday when the government announced a voluntary agreement with the alcohol industry. The ‘responsibility deal’ as it has been dubbed, is a voluntary agreement with the drinks industry on issues such as promotions and labelling, aimed at tackling alcohol abuse.
Health groups including the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association, and the British Liver Trust, who were asked to sign up to the alcohol part of the deal to show a united front between industry, health and government, have refused to do so. Don Shenker of Alcohol Concern said, “It’s all carrot and no stick for the drinks industry and supermarkets”. Professor Vivienne Nathanson of the BMA said, “The government has talked the talk, but when it comes to taking tough action that will achieve results, it falls short”.
On BBC Sussex on Monday morning I argued that unit pricing should be further increased, there should be greater powers given to local authorities to regulate outlets, and enforcement powers increased to allow the closure of outlets and venues that breach reasonable expectations.
As individuals and as an economy, we need to review our relationship with alcohol so that the health of Brighton and Hove’s 250,000 residents and its 12,000 students is improved, and that their experience and that of the 8 million visitors to the City each year improves.