|Alcohol Consumption in Europe (2016)1|
|Pos.||Higher is worse|
The UK has seen a 50-year growth in alcohol consumption and it has become a public-health crisis2. In 2007-8 it directly cost the NHS £3 billion2, and overall the national cost is up to £55 billion a year2,3. Across 2007-8, the UK had up to 40,000 alcohol-related deaths, including 350 from acute alcohol poisoning and 8,000 from cirrhosis of the liver2. Consumption has doubled since the late 1950s, whilst in other developed countries such as France and Italy, it has more than halved4; liver disease rates are falling in the EU, but the UK's rises5. The price of alcohol is half what it was in the 1970s4. Between 1995 and 2001, binge drinking increased by 35% in the UK4 . The increase in drinking "is reflected in rising death rates from chronic liver disease, the primary cause of which is too much drink", and the UK has some of Europe's worst rates of childhood drunkenness and several thousands of babies are born each year with foetal alcohol syndrome2, which has lifelong effects.
“In the last 30 years of the 20th century deaths from liver cirrhosis steadily increased, in people aged 35 to 44 years the death rate went up 8-fold in men and almost 7-fold in women. [...] Three times as much alcohol per head is drunk as in the mid 20th century. [...] Binge-drinking causes serious disorder, crime and injuries. 27% of young male and 15% of young female deaths were caused by alcohol. Our teenagers have an appalling drink problem; among Europeans only Bulgaria and the Isle of Man are worse. In 2003 the Strategy Unit estimated the total cost of alcohol to society to be £20 bn; another study in 2007 put the figure at £55 bn.”
After a 20-year span of worsening results6, alcohol-related crime came to cost the police £7 billion in 2007/82 and it commands the single biggest use of police manpower in the UK including "1.2 million violent incidents and 500,000 crimes"2. Alcoholism and binge drinking are by far the biggest social problem that British society faces. UK holidaymakers and football fans abroad are bemoaned as the most drunken and most unruly of all foreign travellers. It's hard to tell if it is tragic or hillarious that "binge drinking" appears in the UK Citizenship Test lexicon's list of phrases that immigrants ought to learn in order to integrate into British life7.
The effects of UK patterns of alcohol intake on the young are increasing. Between 1970 and 2000, death by cirrhosis, which is normally seen in those after long lives of alcoholism, increased by more than 900% for people aged 25 to 444. The cause is that the young are drinking more frequently, and more heavily. In 2007-8, there were 13 000 hospital admissions of under-18s due to alcohol intake2.
The problems were seen coming. Half a generation ago, according to the NHS, "hundreds more" children found themselves admitted to hospital8 after drinking, compared to previous five years, diagnosed with alcohol poisoning and behavioural disorders caused by excessive drinking9. In 2009 this was confirmed by "an OECD report identifying [British] teenagers as the world's drunkest"10. But perhaps worse of all is those who never had a chance, or a choice: each year now, 6,000 children are born with foetal alcohol syndrome2, with serious lifelong effects.
Pub culture is based around drinking relatively strong beer in a (once) smoky, noisy environment that is devoid of any intelligent conversation. It serves as the place where social groups all default to meet in, where businessmen network, where all go to relax. In trash culture the home is not a primary place to entertain friends: the pub is. Home cooking in the UK has quartered, fast food, eating-out and take-away consumption have experienced long-term booms. Once a proud nation of kitchen-socializers, our fitness and health is plummeting to the same fast-food standards of the USA. Pubs are centres of youth violence, shrines to football and sport and most pubs show frequent football games on a variety of large and small screens. Alcohol over-use has become institutionalized, and not just in labour industries. Professional meetings are frequently held in pubs and involve after-discussion binge-drinking. Feminist groups have complained that this pub & alcohol 'circle' around work meeting discriminates against women (who drink less).
Alcohol, irresponsible behaviour, crime and all the other factors of trash culture are all inter-related12. Sociologists sometimes classify households according to the wages of the principal income earner of the house; "lower social groups tend to smoke more, drink more, take less leisure, fewer holidays and participate less in voluntary work"9. There is an association between poverty and drinking, but also between drinking and smoking, and between drinking and all the other aspects of trash culture.
This is not a new phenomenon. For example, an Anglo-Saxon times (5th-11th century) there were many problems with social behaviour, and alehouses were singled out as the cause so that in order to encourage people to drink and behave in moderation, "any quarrels that arose there were more severely punished than elsewhere"13.
The UK government and alcohol lobbies have been too closely knit for too long, making any attempts at curbing alcohol intakes impossible. Although it was the Labour party that rudely reject its Chief Medical Officer's advice, it is mostly the Conservative Party that has allowed business interests to thwart the health profession when it comes to alcohol.
“A couple of years ago, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Sir Liam Donaldson warned of the rapidly-growing medical costs of alcohol use and recommended a sensible policy of increasing the price of the cheapest drinks. His report was dismissed in an insulting manner by the Labour government, leading to his leaving the post of CMO early.”
The House of Commons Health Committee summarised the failures of the rest of the government to listen to its own health department, in its stark and direct report of 2009-2010.
“The alcohol problem in this country reflects a failure of will and competence on the part of government Departments and quangos. [... Department of Culture, Media and Sport] has been particularly close to the drinks industry. The interests of the large pub chains and the promotion of the 'night-time' economy have taken priority; Ofcom, the [Advertising Standards Authority] and the Portman Group preside over an advertising and marketing regime which is failing to adequately protect young people. [The Office of Fair Trading] shows a blinkered obsession with competition heedless of concerns about public health. The Treasury for many years pursued a policy of making spirits cheaper in real terms. Collectively Government has failed to address the alcohol problem.”