Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ostriches and Alcohol - letter to the Prime Minister

From Lord Avebury P0618082

Tel 020-7274 4617

Email ericavebury@gmail.com

August 18, 2006

I wrote to the Home Secretary on June 25 and July 1 about alcohol harm, asking among other things why the Government is unwilling to produce an annual update of the Strategy Unit Alcohol Harm Reduction project’s Interim Analytical Report of September 2003 (IAR), so that the £20 billion cost to the nation[1] could be recalculated using the same methodology, and the effects of the Government’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy thereby assessed. Vernon Coaker’s reply didn’t address that question, and it has been dodged also when I have put questions in Parliament.

Consumption of alcohol increased from 4,930 hectolitres of pure alcohol in 2001-02 (the year to which the £20 billion figure is assumed to relate) to 5,613 HLPA in 2004-05[2], and if this rate of increase has been maintained, it will reach 6,068 HLPA in the current year, 2006-07. If harm increases in proportion to consumption, as many experts believe[3], the increase in harm since the Cabinet Office estimate would be 10.8%, a staggering £4.62 billion.

The actual figure is likely to be even higher, because the extension of drinking hours arising from the Licensing Act is certain to have boosted consumption. As we said at the time, the operators of licensed premises are not so stupid as to open for longer hours unless they were reasonably certain of recouping the overheads incurred by higher sales. ACPO say it is too early to draw any conclusions about the effects on law and order of the Act, but in December 2005 and June 2006 there were major enforcement campaigns by the police, which limited disorder.

The Government decided not to tackle consumption through price and availability, the two main levers ‘traditionally cited.. as influencing levels of .. consumption and therefore reducing alcohol misuse’[4], on the spurious ground that other factors such as culture and advertising also have an effect. Therefore in addition to the phenomenon of binge drinking, which is facilitated by the proliferation of late night outlets and the relative cheapness of alcohol, drink-driving convictions are rising, and the Department of Transport says that drivers with blood alcohol levels of 50-80 mg/ml are a significant but largely hidden cause of accidents[5]

The Hospital Episode Statistics published by the DH show that in 2001-02, admissions to hospital with a primary diagnosis of mental and behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol (classification F10) were 32,462, while in 2004-05 the number was 43,907[6]. Taking these figures as a proxy for the NHS cost of dealing with alcohol-related harm, that cost would be up by 35.3%.

I submit that these calculations demonstrate the necessity for the Government to take effective measures to reduce alcohol harm, in particular by raising the level of excise duties, and to assess the costs to the nation by updating the IAR estimates annually. Since any increase in alcohol duties could encourage smuggling, we should also encourage other EU member states to raise their taxation of alcohol towards ours, and to conduct audits of harm using the same methodology. Government Departments should set an example by reducing the amount they spend on alcohol, and eliminating alcohol altogether from daytime events.

The Rt Hon Tony Blair,

Prime Minister,

10 Downing Street,

London SW1A 2AA.

[1] Cabinet Office, Alcohol misuse: How much does it cost, September 2003, p 58 [www.strategy.gov.uk/downloads/files/SU%20interim_report2.pdf]

[2] HM Revenue & Customs, Annual Report 2004-05, Table F1, December 2005

[3] Thor Norstrom (ed) European Comparative Alcohol Study, ECAS 1, 2002, p 214 and Hakan Leifman, Esa Osterberg & Mats Ramstedt, Alcohol in Postwar Europe, ECAS II, 2002, para 8.1 (www.fhi.se/upload/PDF/English?ecas_2.pdf

[4] Cabinet Office, op cit, 152.

[5] Combating Drink Driving: Next Steps. A consultation paper, DETR, February 1998

[6] www.hesonline.nhs.uk/Ease/servlet/ContentServer?siteID=1937&categoryID=203

No comments: