North West region-wide wellbeing and health campaign group Our Life has expressed concern at reports that the government is considering delaying new laws to tackle the rising unhealthy drinking culture in the UK. The delays may also impact on locals, where the most recent statistics on alcohol-related crime run into the hundreds.
Reports in today’s Times newspaper suggest that “measures to curb binge drinking top a list of regulations to be shelved” as the government looks to curtail parts of its legislative programme in the face of the current economic downturn. Our Life has reacted angrily to reports that the government’s proposed mandatory code of practice for alcohol retailers might be delayed until after 2011 as part of a “clear out” of anti-business measures believed to have been ordered by the business secretary Lord Mandelson.
“The government must stand firmly by its pledges to tackle binge drinking and alcohol harm," argues Our Life head of corporate affairs Andy Walker. "Such measures are hugely popular with the public. Only last month 72% of respondents to an Our Life poll called on the government to ban activities such as all-you-can-drink offers and other irresponsible and excessive drinks promotions such as dispensing alcohol directly into customers’ mouths.”
The North West has one the worst drinking levels in the country for people drinking at hazardous or harmful levels (1.33 million adults). In the North West, one person is admitted to hospital every seven minutes for an alcohol-related condition and more than 73,000 recorded crimes across the North West last year were related to alcohol – of these 50,000 were violent offences.
In Lancaster and Morecambe alone, the 2007/08 figures produced by the North West Public Health Observatory (PDF link) cite some 797 alcohol attributable violent crimes; 15 sexual offences attributable to alcohol; and 23% of Lancaster’s 16 an over population estimated to be engaging in binge drinking.
The Safer Lancashire Community Safety Partnership states in its 2007 Strategic Assessment that “The levels of binge drinking and alcohol related hospital admissions in the Lancaster district, are currently at a higher rate than the England average. A key factor in criminal behaviour is alcohol.”
“The cost and stress caused to people across the North West by alcohol promotions that result in excessive consumption has gone too far and people want action,” Walker continues.
“The promotion of excessive drinking leads to enormous personal distress for families blighted by alcohol harm and is a massive cash burden on policing and the health service. The estimated cost of alcohol-related and alcohol-specific crime in England is £12 billion and the cost to the NHS in the North West region alone is more than £400 million,” said Walker.
“We cannot afford to wait on this until 2011. Instead of listening to the vested interests of the alcohol retailers who would rather the government did nothing, ministers should take note of the views of thousands of people across the North West who want to see effective measures to address alcohol harm and implement a strong code of practice for alcohol retailers as soon as possible.”
Our Life, which is based in Manchester, is a campaigning organisation working with individuals and organisations who want to achieve the real and lasting changes that will make the North West a healthier place to live. Established as a social enterprise, it offers creative ways for the NHS, local government, the public, business and voluntary organisations to work in partnership to make sure that the North West becomes one of the healthiest regions in the country.
• More Info: www.ourlife.org.uk
• The Strategic Assessment identifies key strategic threats and related issues that affect the Lancaster district Community Safety Partnership (PDF format)