By Tim Montgomerie
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“Every night, in town centres, hospitals and police stations across the country, people have to cope with the consequences of alcohol abuse. And the problem is getting worse. Over the last decade we’ve seen a frightening growth in the number of people — many under age — who think it’s acceptable for people to get drunk in public in ways that wreck lives, spread fear and increase crime. This is one of the scandals of our society and I am determined to deal with it.”
With those words David Cameron will today preview the publication of the Government's alcohol strategy. Next month the Coalition will publish a set of ideas to tackle a problem that costs the NHS £2.7 billion every year (or £90 for every taxpayer). These costs include £645 million in accident and emergency visits, £372 million in ambulance costs an £272 million in outpatient visits. The Telegraph has a full breakdown of costs. The number of alcohol-related hospital admissions has nearly doubled in under a decade as binge drinking has exploded as a social problem.
Some believe that the cost to society as a whole – when factors like lawlessness and worklessness are added in – equal something like £17 billion.
Mr Cameron will float a number of ideas including…
- Drunk tanks – overnight cells in which inebriated individuals can sober up;
- Booze buses – coaches with paramedics which tour city centres dispensing help;
- Police patrols of A&E wards to stop drunks harassing staff and other patients.
There is also a possibility that the Prime Minister will suggest again that he is open to a minimum price for alcohol (the subject of a campaign by Alcohol Concern). The price of alcohol has fallen steadily over the years and, in opposition, Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice proposed higher alcohol duties that would (a) reverse this and (b) fund more treatment programmes for people with serious addiction problems. It was a very unpopular idea at the time with ConHome readers. It is not clear what form any minimum alcohol pricing regime would take if the Coalition was minded to introduce you it but, as The Guardian notes, Health Minister Ann Milton thinks such an initiative may contravene European free trade legislation.
Today's newspapers do not mention if the alcohol strategy will also include the idea that Kit Malthouse, Boris Johnson's deputy, is piloting in London. Up to 300 alcohol offenders will be issued with sobriety orders. In return for avoiding prison they will be required to wear special bracelets. If they drink while wearing these bracelets the bracelets will identify the alcohol and the offender will face jail. Kit floated this idea on ConservativeHome last November.