UK Members of Parliament have warned of “a national crisis” as a result of alcohol misuse, calling for health warnings to appear on all drinks labels, a minimum unit price and lower limit for drivers, among other measures.
Tracey Crouch MP, who chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse, put forwarded a 10-strong series of proposals as she highlighted the social and economic cost of alcohol-related problems.
“The facts and figures of the scale of alcohol misuse in the UK speak for themselves,” she claimed. “1.2 million people a year are admitted to hospital due to alcohol; liver disease in those under 30 has more than doubled over the past 20 years; and the cost of alcohol to the economy totals £21 billion.
Although inisisting that the manifesto was “not designed to end or curtain people’s enjoyment of alcohol”, Crouch maintained: “There must be a more thorough and full package of measures which tackles the problem more effectively and reduces the costs to people’s health of alcohol-related crime and treatment.”
These measures include making a single government minister responsible for overseeing the reduction of alcohol-related harm; giving more influence to local authorities by introducing public health as an additional licensing objective; strengthening the regulation of alcohol marketing; enforcing a health alert on all alcoholic drink labels and implementing the “widespread use” of sobriety orders.
Other steps would see the government revisit the concept of imposing a minimum unit price for alcoholic drinks, despite sidelining such a move last year in favour of banning below-cost sales instead.
The manifesto also proposed greater healthcare support, including an increase in treatment funding that would extend access to this service from 6% to 15% of problem drinkers. According to the report, one in 20 UK adults are “dependent” on alcohol, equivalent to 1.6m people.
Social workers, midwives and healthcare professionals would also receive mandatory training on issues such as parental substance abuse, foetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol-related domestic violence. Similarly, GPs would be encouraged to routinely ask questions about patients’ alcohol consumption, while programmes in the workplace would aim to raise awareness of alcohol misuse problems still further.
In line with measures proposed by Scotland if it votes for independence next month, there was also a proposal to lower the bloodstream alcohol level from 80 milligrammes per 100ml to 50mg/100ml, which would bring the UK into line with several other European countries such as France and Spain.
Although the group’s proposals are not currently part of the legislative agenda, Crouch recommended that they “should form the foundation of a future government’s Alcohol Strategy and deal with the type of alcohol misuse which puts strain on our public services and ends lives all too prematurely.”
Only last month the UK drinks industry stepped up its own commitment to tackling alcohol related damage with a series of pledges, including an increased offer of lower alcohol drinks in the on-trade, partnership schemes to help tackle alcohol related disorder and further investment in training schemes.
Commenting on this new Parliamentary manifesto, WSTA chief executive Miles Beale highlighted the progress already being made to tackle alcohol misuse, noting: “The latest trends show that per-capita consumption is now less than it was in 1979 and drinking amongst young people has fallen to its lowest level since records began.”
In order to achieve further improvement, he suggested: “Instead of heavy-handed regulation, which is unlikely to deter the heaviest drinkers, we need to focus on targeted interventions which are proven to reduce alcohol misuse.
“By working in partnership with Government, the industry has already taken bold steps to include health information on labels, remove 1 billion units of alcohol from the market, future proof its funding of Drinkaware and rollout industry-led initiatives like Community Alcohol Partnerships.”