Have you ever noticed, you can bang on about something ad infinitum until you go blue in the face but often, many people just won’t listen until they decide they want to. Either that or they get a rude and/or painful wake-up call which actually forces them to listen and take action. Our Booze Britain culture and the consequent anti-social behaviour is one such issue…
Booze has become something of a political and commercial proverbial hot potato in recent years. It is also a subject of verbal conflict in our household of late, there’s a kind of pro and anti feeling towards alcohol emerging that was never really there before. If I say my wife was born into a Salvation Army family and I was born into a publican’s family, you can start to see where the differences of opinion might come from. That said, after life-long police careers we have both seen and dealt with the impacts of too much booze.
It’s not that one of us is teetotal and the other is an alcoholic, although we can draw on the experience of those circumstances. Neither is it the fact that neither of us drink, we both do. It’s more about the rights and wrongs of alcohol consumption as a whole but in particular, the quantity issues.
Our opinions have probably been even further polarised of late; since retirement from the police I have returned to working in the hospitality industry and my wife is working with a local community addiction service. I serve beer in a pub and she spends all her time helping people to kick the booze, this ‘conflict’ of interests often makes for some ‘interesting’ discussions!
It’s a kind of professional rivalry, in professions that are a world apart. In a nutshell, I say it’s not the booze that causes the problems, it’s the people who consume too much of it. The wife usually argues how the chemical and bodily reactions to alcohol are the issues causing over indulgence and addiction.
I then counter with; “ok, but despite the physical/chemical reactions to alcohol, isn’t ‘addiction’ also a kind of personality disorder, one that some are prone to more than others? Ergo, the problem is the people and not the booze, and so the debate continues!
Calling Time on Booze Britain is something most of us would like to see but there are no easy cures for the problem, as I’ve pointed out before. I’ve also discussed the Minimum Unit Pricing issue before but that is only one aspect of the problems we see. One thing that my wife and I are usually in total agreement about are the quantity issues. We (our society) need to cut-down on our consumption levels and we need to understand and acknowledge the fact; our bodies need ‘recovery time’ from drinking. We also need to start considering the impacts of our overindulgence upon others.
News items on the subject, and they are myriad, often provoke further discussions about booze. One such piece came this week from Carrie Armstrong, a Geordie TV presenter and herself a recovering alcoholic. In a recent blog post, Alcoholic Children: Britain’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (also reproduced in the HuffingtonPost), Carrie explored the root causes of Booze Britain. Irrespective of her own addiction, coming from Tyneside which is undoubtedly one of the Nation’s cultural capitals of the phenomenon, Carrie is probably better placed than many to talk about the issues.
Although I don’t necessarily agree with all of her views about the causes of our current problems e.g. children surrounded by booze at home, her acknowledgement of the fact that many of today’s problems are down to “copied behaviour” and a “lack of consequences” is true. I agree that as a society, we have to stop looking at drunken behaviour as if it is in some way acceptable or inevitable. Neither should alcohol be seen as a valid excuse for our behavior, socially or legally.
As Carrie says, we must look towards ”tightening laws on adolescent drunk-child behaviour.” By that I don’t necessarily mean create new laws, we have plenty of legal tools to deal with the issue, it’s just for one reason or another, not least the cut-backs born out of austerity measures, they aren’t often utilised to their full potential.
Carrie suggests that we can also make inroads to the problem by “adjusting our homes to protect our children from what’s in them,” referring to the availability of booze at home. I wouldn’t subscribe to that observation per se, I was raised in a pub, so were several members of my family. I have friends whose parents were/are licensees, I and many people I know have spent all their life surrounded by ‘available’ booze and they aren’t alcoholics. Or indeed, the type of individuals who inflict anti-social behaviour upon others.
I’m still convinced that as a society we have allowed generations to grow up without boundaries of ‘acceptable’ behaviour, both at home and in the street. We have a general social acceptance that it is cool to get bladdered at any and every opportunity. It is (generally) the psyche of the people not the substance (irrespective of the chemically addictive properties) that cause most of the problems. This factor was also (partly) an underlying theme within Carries blog post, and one that is set to get worse with reductions in resources available to deal with the issue.
We need to start and provide the consequences for our drunk children’s behaviour. Not have them be the consequences of ours…(Carrie Armstrong)
The problems that we see on our streets today, in our Hospital A&E departments during most weekend evenings, as well as being dealt with by our Criminal Justice System (CJS), are just the first sips of the big booze glass. Yes alcohol problems are a massive drain on our public services however; for all the drunkenness we see in the media and pouring through the revolving doors of the CJS, there are many more people suffering in silence. Ones who mostly evade the radar of general public perception of the issues. People from all walks of life, both professionally and socially, who have a constant struggle with alcohol addiction and all the associated issues.
Like some others (thankfully), Carrie Armstrong knows this and is doing her bit to try to help others going through the problems and issues she has experienced. In How To Be A Sober Girl | Because Alcoholism may be Ugly But Recovery is Beautiful, Carrie says; “I believe that Recovery is the greatest experience life has to offer. That it is exciting, empowering and satisfying.” I have a great friend in the USA (and she knows who she is if she reads this) who would wholeheartedly agree with that ethos!
Living a sober life should be everybody’s aim, but by that and from my personal point of view, I don’t necessarily mean absolutely no booze, unless that’s what you want or have to do. As one old bloke always used to say to me, during my formative drinking years; ”there’s nowt clever in o’er much strong drink lad”. By that he meant, don’t drink too much or you’ll get into trouble.
When I started drinking it was in the controlled environment of a public house, not on a street corner or in the park with packs of loss-leader power fiz from the local supermarket. This is a total contrast to the drinking ‘apprenticeship’ most receive today.
I drank in an environment where my peers and I were being social; getting a bit tipsy may have sometimes (but rarely) been a side-effect of that social interaction but I (unlike many) don’t like not being in control, or not knowing what is/was going on around me. Unlike today, there was never any aim to get as much strong booze down our necks as quick as possible, get out of our heads and cause problems for others. If we did, we had the social and legal consequences to face, unlike now.
Each path to (total/partial) sobriety is different and a personal one but as Carrie Armstrong points out in her blogs and videos; it was “the greatest gift I ever gave myself.” She shows how she achieved that point in her life where she was happy without booze, she can also show you what a sober girl’s (or boy’s) world should (and can) look like…
- Hospital admissions linked to alcohol rise to more than a million in year (guardian.co.uk)
- Booze Britain: The Alcohol #MUP Debate? (healthiestbeauty.wordpress.com)
- Is it time Big Booze took problem drinking seriously? (guardian.co.uk)
- Louise Mensch: British women need to give up booze to be healthier like Americans (express.co.uk)
- Northamptonshire Police chief calls for booze ‘debate’ after Twitter campaign (northamptonchron.co.uk)
Crime statistics for England and Wales show an 8% drop on police figures and a 5% reduction in the ‘official’ crime survey figures (source guardian.co.uk). That has to be good news - doesn’t it? We’re winning the ‘war’ against crime – aren’t we? How do we compare with the remainder of Europe?
As any previous visitors here will know; I’m one of those who is often sceptical about ‘official’ crime statistics (see example post) but I’m not alone with my views. Several others continually question the validity of our crime figures. In recent years, the Thin Blue Line Blog has probably done more than most in its attempt to; comprehensively unravel all the ‘spin’ and book cooking disguising the true figures.
To be fair, our ‘official’ statistics in England & Wales are supplemented by the results of the crime survey; a process that since 1982, provides additional figures (designed) to supplement the actual number of crimes recorded by the police. The idea behind the survey is to provide a more ’balanced’ picture of crime trends (see crimesurvey.co.uk) by courting personal opinion and perception.
The overall picture, based upon both sets of data shows that; despite the downward trends, Britain still remains among the more violent countries in western Europe. Still a sad fact but thankfully, the statistical decline is more rapid here than anywhere else in Europe. So it appears that, mostly due to our media perhaps, we still have a tendency to inflate the true picture?
Statisticians say the crime rate has halved since it peaked in 1995 and appears to be at its lowest level for more than 30 years…(guardian.co.uk)
So if crime is actually falling, all we now have to do is reduce the fear of crime, whether or not that fear is based upon fact or fiction i.e. real or perceived. It’s something our police forces (and the government) have been trying to do for some time.
The fear of crime refers to the fear of being a victim of crime as opposed to the actual probability of being a victim of crime. The fear of crime is said to have been in Western culture for “time immemorial”…(wikipedia.org)
It’s an important factor that was also raised by Ally Fogg writing in The Guardian when he said; Crime is falling. Now lets reduce fear of crime - a nobel thought but is it one that’s actually viable? The Twitter notification informing the world about his article prompted me to reply in my usual cynical manner.
Easy to ‘cook’ the books but mind engineering far more difficult (@DaveHasney)
Despite covering most, if not all the social, economic and scientifically derived factors leading to our ‘fear’ of crime in his article, Ally Fogg actually alluded to the fact that it is never easy to make significant in roads into this problem. Moving towards his summing up he said; “Psychology has taught us how cognitive biases skew our perceptions of risk.”
Crime (and anti social behaviour) are undoubtedly an important issue for all our communities; it’s one of the main reasons why we now have Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRP). Groups that were established by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to co-ordinate action on crime and disorder. But more than ten years on since their inception, we still have that ‘fear’ in our communities.
The next natural question to ask is, are they actually achieving what they set out to do? If so, it’s not that apparent. It’s probably the reason why so many similar questions are raised (but usually only partly answered), by sociologists, criminologists, politicians and journalists ad infinitum.
The prevailing mood is always that the world is going to hell in a handcart, and woe betide any political candidate who suggests otherwise…(Ally Fogg)
The majority of these ‘crimes’ (perceived or real), may well be ’low level quality of life issues’ however; they still serve to continually blight many of our neighbourhoods. In addition, they still ruin people’s lives and probably more important now than in the past, they also have a substantial financial impact upon the public and private sector purse. Hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost revenue and (arguably) wasted expenditure trying to combat them, are continually flushed down the public service drains of our society each year.
The total cost of violence and crime to the UK economy is estimated at £124bn per annum. To put that in perspective, a further 50% reduction in crime would cover the cost of every hospital built-in the country over the past 13 years…(guardian.co.uk)
These financial figures are even more worrying (and annoying) when you consider; we’re continually trying to rectify problems caused by a relatively small minority in our society. Financial impacts aside but with self-preservation of party political popularity no doubt to the fore; it’s hardly surprising that successive Governments have not only set targets for reducing crimes such as burglary, robbery and car theft, but for some time now, they have also aimed to reduce the fear of crime.
Now I’m not one of those who is easily swayed in his opinion or beliefs; especially not when it comes to the emotive type of media headlines so favoured by our tabloid journalists. I can also read between the lines of often politically biased broadsheet journals. As it would appear many commentators to Fogg’s article were prone to mention. Ergo, I’m not one of those who’s perception is as a consequence of our media.
I fully understand all the ‘tricks’ of the trade utilised by police forces and politicians to artificially illustrate the realities of crime. I live in probably the ’safest’ area of England & Wales (according to crime statistics) but I still continually see, hear about and take note of many of the criminal and/or anti-social realities impacting upon our society. I also have a pretty good handle on how police resources are deployed to deal with many of those issues.
I know that perception and reality are often at odds with each other however; despite a still relatively small number of ‘crimes’ per capita, crime actually rose almost year on year between 1950 and in 2004/05 (civitas.org.uk). Strange how after an almost tenfold increase in that time (see graph), we’re suddenly expected to believe crime is decreasing year on year. It’s also hardly any wonder that, irrespective of numerous ’satisfaction’ surveys, the word on the street (rightly or wrongly) is, “our police are failing us!”
Despite all the contrived spin designed to mitigate against the general (but hopefully mostly unfounded) perceptions about our police, the public rarely see police officers these days, let alone experience any personal interaction with them. When they do, it appears that with far too much regularity, their experience often leaves a sour taste. I’ve said it in the past , perhaps the police are the engineers of their own demise?
When communities are continually ‘sold’ high expectations about the capabilities of their police, and those massively reduced resources can’t physically match up to that expectation, is it any wonder we’re unintentionally generating negative perceptions about policing capability? And what they [the police] are doing about crime.
There are those who will argue that policing is more of a scientific and intelligence lead process today, it’s not just about visibility and response times. It is a combination of proactive and reactive methodology. I agree but I also worry that; far too often it appears the ‘proactive’ aspects are little more than short-term operations for PR opportunities and the ‘reactive’ part, well that is often late or (sometimes rightly) not delivered at all.
Add a widely held negative perception of policing, to a predominant (unfounded?) belief we live in a society of high crime levels and you have a recipe for a pressure cooker of public angst. But policing and crime, or indeed the fear of crime, are only the window on the actual problems. It is far too simplistic to lay all the blame at the front door of your local Police Station (always assuming you can actually find one).
As I’ve pointed out before, with regular monotony; political spin, PR hype and ‘cooking’ of records will never realise the actual results we’re continually striving to achieve.
If we compare ourselves with other countries or with our own history, the crime rate is high… Rather than making it seem that people are in the grip of irrational fears and implying that these fears are whipped up by the tabloids, the Home Office could more usefully direct its energy at reducing crime and recognising the objective seriousness of the situation…(civitas.org.uk)
To find the real answers to the problems resulting from crime, we need to examine the very foundations of our society. Wealth (or lack of it), parenting skills, quality of education, health and wellbeing and yes policing, along with the remainder of the Criminal Justice System, all have a part to play in crime reduction. Their actions/inactions all have an impact upon the stability of our social framework.
There is no quick fix available and certainly no immediate personal kudos to be gained here for any senior police officers, Police & Crime Commissioner or politician. That’s a fact they would all do well to remember. We need to invest more time, effort and public cash, into the root causes of crime. Always assuming we really want to see some tangible results. Or, could ”reducing the fear of crime” be just another example of political spin?
Whatever your perceptions of crime, the closing lines of Crime Watch which went something like - “Please remember, violent crime is actually much rarer than a lot of what we show, please do not have nightmares, sleep tight” – are relevent here!
- Crime is falling. Now let’s reduce fear of crime | Ally Fogg (guardian.co.uk)
- Is UK Crime Falling? (britishvlogger.wordpress.com)
- Crime Figures Lack Validity – Reclassifying ‘Crimes’! (brianrobertssociology.wordpress.com)
- Media Impact on Crime and Fear (kdizaei.wordpress.com)
- Pom-poms ‘help reduce fear of crime’ (bbc.co.uk)
Current Alcohol licensing laws of the United Kingdom were designed to regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol however; there is a plethora of widely available evidence which suggest these laws are actually failing us…
As in many other areas of the nation, a Teesside town is now considering calling time on late-night drinking. These plans are being made as a direct result of public and police concerns about alcohol-related crime (see here).
An Early Morning Restriction Order (EMRO) could be in force by August following talks with Cleveland Police…(bbc.co.uk)
But Hartlepool is not alone. Similar processes are being implemented across the land, a fact which makes it increasingly clear; our society wasn’t ready for the 24/7 ‘cafe culture’ idea. An ideal and proposal which I originally supported and one which was largely created by our current licensing laws, in particular the Licensing Act 2003.
In August last year Nightclubs in Norwich voluntarily agreed to call time on sales of alcohol in the early hours in a bid to cut crime and anti-social behaviour (see here). In a step aimed at a further reduction of the problems, Norwich council’s licensing committee have now approved plans to cut ‘permitted hours’ at premises in the area (see here).
Elsewhere in the UK, clubs and pubs in Northampton could be banned from selling alcohol between midnight and 06:00 (see here) and within the Thames Valley, a scheme to limit the sale of super strength lager could be coming to town centres in the area soon (see here).
It’s a sad state of affairs that our society wasn’t mature enough to make sensible use of a much-needed relaxation to the previous archaic licensing laws. Many have but not without negative impacts upon their health, our public services and our society as a whole.
With this lengthening night-time economy and the associated anti-social issues that go with often excessive drinking later into the night something had to give. The cost of policing and clear up operations alone have become a necessary but undesirable burden upon the ever-decreasing public purse.
This is why many authorities across the land have now been forced into utilising early morning alcohol restriction orders (EMROs) made under The Licensing Act 2003 (Early Morning Alcohol Restriction Orders) Regulations 2012.
Irrespective of any previously licensed ‘permitted hours’ under the act, an EMRO can enforce a temporary or permanent change to those hours. It can apply to any period on each day beginning at or after 12am and ending at or before 6am. It does not have to apply on every day and can apply for different time periods on different days.
An EMRO can apply to the whole or any part of the licensing authority’s area. The EMRO will apply to premises licences, club premises certificates and temporary event notices in relation to premises situated in the specified area. As previously mentioned, an EMRO can apply for a limited or unlimited period of time. For example, an EMRO may
apply for a few weeks in relation to a specific event or apply for an indefinite period.
These controversial regulations, allowing EMROs (and an additional late-night levy) came into force in October 2012 however; some elements of the licensed trade have concerns regarding their application (see here). Many in the trade are concerned about the impact upon their livelihoods but I would ask; why worry if you operate your business and premises correctly? The sale of alcohol is not just a money-making opportunity, it also holds moral obligations to the community and our society.
The Government claim these measures will help pay the nation’s estimated £11bn a year bill for alcohol-related crime and disorder. The Home Office have suggested that around £17M per annum will be realised in England and Wales, a drop in the alcohol ocean perhaps but I suppose every little helps?
At this point in my observations I resemble Jake the Peg, as I actually have a foot in all three main camps of the arguments associated to this issue. As a drinker myself, I appreciated the relaxed opportunity created by the ‘cafe culture’ idea and subsequent legislation. I seldom used those ‘opportunities’ but they were there if I wanted to. Being employed to serve alcohol to those who drink, I understand some of the trade concerns although I don’t agree with many of them.
Finally, having spent all my adult life in and around pubs, thirty years of which was spent dealing with the after effects of excessive drinking, associated antisocial behaviour and public disorder, I can confirm these problems are more widespread now than ever before, especially (but not exclusively) amongst the young.
The licensed trade must shoulder its share of responsibility in trying to reverse these trends however; it does appear that the more traditional community pubs are being tarnished by the alcohol retail methods of supermarkets, along with the larger pub-chain premises and nightclubs. Usually there is a distinct difference. It appears that many see the Swiss idea to nip a similar problem in the bud as a step too far?
A growing trend among Swiss towns and villages to introduce curfews for the under-16s is causing anger and frustration among the country’s teenagers…(bbc.co.uk)
Sadly, if the only way to curtail many of the alcohol related problems we see today is the EMRO then so be it. The downsizing of public sector services, particularly within enforcement and health, coupled with an emptying public purse means; we simply can’t allow the cost of clearing up this mess to continue any longer!
- Calling time on 24-hour boozing (hartlepoolmail.co.uk)
- Region’s alcohol impact revealed (bbc.co.uk)
- Evaluating the Impact of Flexible Alcohol Trading Hours on Violence: An Interrupted Time Series Analysis (plosone.org)
- Excess drinking ‘is underestimated’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Many more Britons drinking harmfully than thought, survey suggests (guardian.co.uk)
- Alcohol pricing flawed, say officials (telegraph.co.uk)