A YouGov poll published today on behalf of three major British Christian denominations has revealed that 61% of British adults believe that excessive drinking is a problem in their local area.
The Baptists, Methodists and United Reformed Churches have expressed concerns about the increasing availability of cheap alcohol and the effects this might be having on communities across Britain. They believe that enforcing a minimum per-unit price could be part of the solution to this problem, a move that has already been taken by the Scottish Government and that has been backed by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). So far, however, the Westminster Governments has refused to go down this route, although a growing number of local authorities are beginning to introduce minimum per-unit pricing.
Research shows that both alcohol-associated crime and health consequences are directly related to the quantity of alcohol a population consumes, and this correlates with the availability and acceptability of alcohol. This is a problem that is costing the NHS around £2.7 billion per year, let alone the costs of policing town centres, and the damage to property. The cost to individual lives, relationships and communities is incalculable.
CMF backed Liam Donaldson’s recommendation to bring in minimum per-unit pricing in 2009, stating that ‘in combating the epidemic of alcohol misuse the government needs to embrace solutions that are properly evidence-based. The current education-based “sensible drinking” strategy for countering alcohol misuse is not evidence-based, but is rather built on the false presuppositions that an intemperate minority contribute the bulk of alcohol-related problems in the community and that people make rational and objective decisions about their drinking.
Price is one of the major determinants of alcohol consumption, and setting a minimum per-unit price is a very effective preventive tool.’
We would also add that we need to challenge a wider cultural acceptance of excessive alcohol consumption. We succeeded as a nation in making drink driving socially unacceptable in the eighties, and we can do the same with binge drinking today.
However it remains frustrating that two years on from Donaldson’s modest proposal, the UK Government is not following the lead of the Scottish Government and city governments such as Manchester and Merseyside in introducing this one simple measure to start to reduce the problem
But minimum per-unit pricing is only one plank in a strategy to combat the problem of alcohol abuse – as the Revd Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain says in a press release today, ‘The crucial need is to get to grips with the reason for excessive drinking. For some it is a form of protest against society, for others it is a personal cry for help. We need to listen harder and find ways in which we can encourage a sense of purpose and self-worth which makes excessive drinking unnecessary.’
As British society celebrates the winter festivals of Christmas and New Year with a binge of consumerism and consumption – especially of alcohol – it is worth also remembering that for Christians this is a season when we remember God taking on all the frailties of our human form. We certainly need to take steps as a society to combat alcohol overconsumption, but we in the Churches also need to remind society of a greater hope that fills the gap we so readily try to fill with alcohol, food and buying stuff – the hope of a God who loves us so much he entered into our messy, mixed up lives and gave us something worth living for.