Tackling the misery caused by alcohol misuse

By on 27/01/2014 in Cllr Bedser, News

A campaign to reduce the availability of super-strength beer and cider is one measure being considered in Birmingham as officials look to tackle the health and social problems caused by alcohol misuse.

But Director of Public Health, Dr Adrian Phillips, and Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Steve Bedser, insist the single most effective move would be for the Government to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

In a report to Birmingham Health and Wellbeing Board, Dr Phillips recommended a number of actions, including:

  • Working with environmental health and other local agencies to explore voluntary codes on sales of strong alcohol
  • Consideration of co-ordinated approaches to reducing the strength of drinks, especially strong ciders and lagers
  • Consideration of co-ordinated approaches to pricing
  • Working with surrounding councils and other major cities to ensure co-ordinated approaches and maximise lobbying

He said: “Alcohol is a key factor in a large number of issues, including accident and emergency admissions, troubled families, domestic violence and safeguarding.

“The figures are shocking. A quarter of casualty attendences and over 10 per cent of all hospital admissions are linked to alcohol.

“Fifty per cent of domestic violence cases are predicated by alcohol, a third of troubled families are troubled because of alcohol and a significant number of children brought into care because of parental misuse of alcohol.

“The introduction of a minimum unit price would have an immense impact in so many areas and I would urge the Government to reconsider its stance.

“ In the meantime, we can take some control as a city and we are looking very closely at actions taken elsewhere, including the Reducing the Strength campaign in Ipswich.”

Introduced in 2012 the Ipswich scheme saw the majority of off-licence owners and other retailers remove strong beers and ciders from their shelves in an effort to tackle alcohol abuse and stamp out anti-social behaviour.

The scheme has been hailed as a major success and has resulted in a 49 per cent reduction in ‘street drinker events’.

Welcoming the report from Dr Phillips, Cllr Bedser, added: “This is about looking at what we can do to address an issue that has a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of people in this city.

“Government inaction on the issue of minimum unit pricing is hugely frustrating and prompted Birmingham to withdraw support for the Responsibility Deal last summer. But we cannot afford to simply sit back and wait for a rethink. We’re working closely with partners in licensing and other agencies to see what can be done in Birmingham.”

Webcast: Birmingham Health and Wellbeing Board discuss the alcohol strategy: http://www.birmingham.public-i.tv/core/share/open/webcast/0/0/560/125203/125203/webcast/start_time/6435000

Background

Alcohol has played an integral part of our social fabric and will do for many future generations. It is an important part of the night-time economy in the City. However alcohol in excess (either acute or chronic) has significant effects on an individual, their family and the community they live in. We are seeing an increase in the numbers who misuse alcohol in the long term and also those who consume large amounts of alcohol more infrequently.

Alcohol has significant effects on the health and wellbeing of the City. It accounts for over 5% of our life expectancy gap with England. It has significant effects on criminal behaviour, anti-social behaviour as well as disrupting normal family life. There is a strong association with domestic violence and it is a significant factor in many children who are taken into care because of parental behaviour.

Birmingham agreed an “Alcohol Strategy” in 2012 which has three aims:

  1. Health – Increased healthy life expectancy; reduced differences in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy between communities;
  2. Crime – Reduction in alcohol related crime and disorder and perception of crime and disorder;
  3. Communities, Families, Children and young people – Reduction in the adverse impact of alcohol on families and the wider community

Much work has been done in all 3 domains - for example alcohol-related violence and crime has fallen.

There is strong evidence that the harms caused by alcohol are in the most disadvantaged groups. This is probably because the more advantaged have better knowledge about the effects of alcohol, greater psycho-social resistance to advertising etc., and be surrounded by people who are more likely to help them negotiate the adverse effects of excess alcohol consumption.

The rise in alcohol consumption which has been seen in England over the past 30 years is likely due to four factors:

  1. Price - it is widely accepted that this has a significant role and the unit price of alcohol has declined in the last 30 years.
  2. Availability - especially very strong drinks such as white cider and spirits.
  3. Mixing – with low risk products e.g. alcopops
  4. Advertising - especially to women and older teenagers including university students where “Fresher's weeks” are often sponsored by the drinks industry.

National Policy

There have been a number of initiatives over the last 15 years which have aimed to change drinking habits through altering alcohol policy. One of the effects was to reduce so called “binge” consumption by having alcohol available throughout the day and throughout the week. This policy has not delivered the desired outcomes.

More recently the Government have explored two other ideas. The first is the

“Responsibility Deal” which includes the drinks industry. To date, this has had minimal change with the most notable success relating to clearer labelling of alcohol units on certain products by a number of companies.

The second had been to explore minimum unit pricing of alcohol. There had been a commitment to ensure alcohol was not sold at a price below cost price. This policy has now been withdrawn.

Local opportunity

There has been considerable interest shown by individuals and organisations in Birmingham regarding more responsible alcohol policy. This has been mirrored by other authorities. A recent event organised by the West Midlands Licensing Forum and the Public Health Network concerning alcohol and alcohol licensing identified a number of new opportunities. It was attended by many including the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands Police. Whilst many delegates were very aware of the impact on crime and health, the major economic impact of alcohol misuse on a town centre through on-street drinking as well as general footfall through shopping precincts was underlined.

Ipswich has been at the forefront of voluntary codes and has introduced a scheme aimed at reducing the strength of alcohol. There has been special emphasis on a number of specific products especially strong “super-strength” ciders. This tends to be the drink of choice of individuals who embark on on-street drinking and general anti-social behaviour in city centres. This voluntary code has had a good take-up in the town centre in Ipswich. It has led to a halving of anti-social behaviour and other criminal offences and an increase in general footfall.. More importantly, many shops which sell alcohol have seen a big decline in abuse against staff as well as thefts.

There was consideration of how local licensing bodies can use regulatory powers such as Cumulative Impact Assessment to control alcohol consumption as well as using local By-Laws to reduce price either directly or indirectly. This is being actively considered by a number of places in the North West and now the Midlands. The importance of co-ordinated action was highlighted to minimise displacement.

It was also noted that CCGs are formally consulted on licensing applications and that more could be done to assist these organisations to respond appropriately.

It is recommended that a local workshop for the Health and Wellbeing Board is convened to take some of these matters forward and include the licensing committee. Additionally it is recommended that resources are used to bring in specific expertise to provide short term support. This will come from the public health budget. It is further recommended that an update report on the Alcohol strategy be received by the Board

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