Friday, 5 September 2008

Over 21's Off Sales Pilot

Press release from the Scottish Government:

Public Health Minister Shona Robison is to visit Stenhousemuir on Monday to hear about the success of the 'Stop the Supply' over-21s off-sales alcohol pilot.

The Minister will meet local police and shopkeepers to learn more about the substantial impact the trial has had on anti-social behaviour and crime.

The visit also marks the end of the Scottish Government's consultation on its proposals for tackling alcohol misuse, which include setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, raising the off-sales alcohol purchase age to 21, ending irresponsible promotions and a social responsibility fee for some retailers.

There is no question that Scotland has what is often described as a "complex relationship with alcohol" and as a local councillor I get a lot of complaints about the anti social behaviour that invariably follows underage drinking, but I retain grave doubts about these plans.

It would be interesting to see if police activity over the period of this experiment was increased greatly as has happened during other similar projects. If so, and I have no doubt that it was, then this skews the results substantially and linking the reduction in anti social behaviour to a higher police presence on the street could be viewed as more probable than stopping the sale of drink from off licenses to under 21s.

A good friend of mine came round to see me the other day. His 16 year old son, let's call him X) had been taken home by police after collapsing drunk on the High Street in the middle of the afternoon. Where did he get the drink? It turns out that X had gone to a friends house where his friends Mother had given her son and various other 16 year olds plenty of alcohol. When X had got very drunk, the woman threw him out of the house where he tried and failed to get home. When my friend complained to the police, he was told they would not pursue this unless X complained himself (something that X was profoundly reluctant to do for fear of reprisals).

There are many examples of 'proxy purchasing' by adults for kids (often taking a 'cut'for themselves) or parents simply giving the drink to kids to get them out of the house. It is a well known, and arguably growing problem that the Government's measures do nothing to address.

The Government also wants to end "irresponsible promotions". From the press release, this is a bit vague. They have previously said they wanted to ban "3 for 2" offers and I'm not sure if they deem this to be "irresponsible" or not.

Personally, I like a drink and usually have a small stock of wine in the house. If I see an offer in the supermarket, I'm likely to buy it, just as I might take advantage of any other offer. However this could all end because a minority, and I firmly believe it is a minority, abuse alcohol. I'm also going to have to pay more for the wine I do buy per unit of alcohol. This won't bother the vast majority of us too much, but for those with a drink problem, and perhaps on a modest income (alcohol abuse is more prevalent in areas of higher deprivation), then it means more money from the household budget will be diverted, probably from food or heating, into purchasing drink which will only make the situation worse for the family as a whole.

Having argued against these proposals with several SNP supporters I have often received the mantra "it's worth a try" or "it's better to do something than nothing".

That may or may not be the case, but I'm not convinced that this rather blunt and simplistic legislation will do the trick. Our response needs to be considerably more sophisticated than it is at present and should include a presumption that anyone caught selling alcohol to underagers, or purchasing alcohol on behalf of underagers is actually prosecuted for it. At the moment, that's simply not happening.

The current ills of our society are manifesting themselves in anti social behaviour, alcohol/drug abuse and a general contempt for others.

I'd suggest we are a generation away from seeing major improvements, and even then, only if we are willing to take a comprehensive approach to what is fundamentally wrong and start to tackle the root problems of poverty and social inequality.


Clay Perry said...

maybe there isnt enough to do...

Jim said...

Thanks for your comment Clay, and its a valid point.

The problem is not just kids, statistics show that the problem extends through all age groups.

Its one of the reasons I'm against picking on the 18 to 21 year age group.