The ’24-Hour Drink Law’ has NOT lead to increased alcohol consumption


The Daily Mail front page today led with a story proclaiming:

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This is a continuation of the Daily Mail’s ongoing campaign against ’24-Hour Drinking’: it proudly describes itself as “the paper that campaigned for years against New Labour’s mad round-the-clock drinking laws”. Ignoring the fact that only a handful of outlets other than hotels and supermarkets have even applied for 24-Hour drinks licenses, the entire article is based on two myths:

1. That alcohol consumption has risen since the implementation of the Licensing Act (2001)

2. That alcohol related crime, disorder and social problems have risen since the implementation of the Licensing Act

These common myths are complete nonsense. While it’s true that alcohol consumption did rise steadily during the 1980s and 1990s, this was associated with the ‘long economic boom’ of the 1990s, and the consolidation of alcohol companies into a few large brands, with stronger marketing and retail power. If anything, the changes of the Licensing Act were designed to deal with the effects of this increased drinking.

The British Lifestyle Survey in 2011 is just one research project which has shown that, following 20 years of increase,  both occasional and regular alcohol consumption levels were not growing during the 2000s. If anything, the last few years have seen a decline in alcohol consumption:

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The Institute of Alcohol Studies also shows an overall fall in alcohol consumption in their research:

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Here, the total consumed alcohol was at 10.8 liters in 2001, and 10 liters in 2011. Furthermore, this research shows that on-trade sales – that is sales in bars, pubs and clubs – has fallen significantly during this time. The campaigns from the likes of the Daily Mail have largely targeted the city center, working class drinking which is associated with these on-licence sales. Even so-called ‘pre-loading’, that is the trend in buying cheap supermarket alcohol for consumption prior to going out, has  plateaued since 2004. In other words, while there is still merit in particular in looking at the effect of low cost off-licence alcohol sales, the Licensing Act in 2001 – that is, “24 Hour Drinking” – did not increase alcohol consumption.

But what about alcohol related crime, disorder and health problems? I was surprised to find out that alcohol is related to 1 in 16 NHS hospital admissions – frankly, I’d have expected more. While the £2.7 billion spent in England by the NHS on alcohol related problems sounds a lot, this forms part of a £95.6 billion budget – that’s just 2.8% of the overall budget. With regards to crime, we can again go to the Institute of Alcohol Studies:

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From 2001 to 2010, we see an overall fall in the number of offenders who commit crimes under the influence of alcohol. As a causal factor of violent crime, there is a more fluctuating trend, but no marked increase.

Just looking at what’s happened since 2001 doesn’t tell the full story. There was a pretty consistent rise in alcohol consumption from the late 1980s up until around 2000. The Daily Mail article comes from a senior policeman calling for ‘drunk tanks’, and we might agreet that with regards to alcohol consumption – as with recent debate over mentally unwell people – we might agree that too much responsibility is placed on police to deal with drinking. But what certainly is untrue is that the 2001 Licensing Act has encouraged increase alcohol consumption and disorder.

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