Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from The Scottish Council on Alcohol


  Excise duty income from alcohol to the UK was £5,967 billion in 1998-99, and £6,426 billion in 1999-00. These figures do not include vat. Between 1998-99 and 1999-2000 increase in duty was 10 per cent, on spirits, on beer was 4 per cent and on wine was 12 per cent. Over the same period increase in consumption of spirits was 10 per cent on beer was 0.1 per cent, and in wine was 17 per cent, and to date we know that the fasted rate of increase in consumption is in the purchase of wines in the UK. Therefore, over that two year period taxation and consumption have increased, and this pattern would appear to challenge the assumption that increased taxation has a direct and immediate impact on consumption. (Source of data: SLRA Statistical Handbook)

  It is arguable, however, that cost and price are effective mechanisms for tackling problems associated with alcohol misuse.

  The following issues need to be considered;

    —  While there is every reason to consider that price is a determinant of consumption, it could also be argued that for those with alcohol related problems price is only one of a number of determinants.

    —  Questions of affordability, disposable income and desired impact of the alcoholic beverage also impact on consumer choice.

    —  Increasing the price of alcohol simply increases the relative cost burden on lower income groups, without necessarily impacting on alcohol misuse.

    —  As evidenced in the context of tobacco, it is possible that taxation thresholds will be reduced which may be a consequence increase in the level of trafficking.

    —  With the illicit-sale of alcohol comes a reduction in the ability to exercise control over preferred drinking environments.

    —  Were alcohol to significantly increase in price, there is every likelihood that those with alcohol related problems, in families would tend to drink at home, as well as spend a greater proportion of their income on alcohol, with a concomitant negative impact on family life.

  Regulation of alcohol consumption solely through price mechanisms is extremely complex. It is argued that patterns of consumption are regulated by individual expectation, social pressures, availability of choices, disposable income, brand preference, marketing processes, media profile, and for those with alcohol related problems, the maximum volume of alcohol which can be available at the lowest cost. The SCA would argue that people with alcohol related problems differentiate by cost, quantity, impact of their purchases, and disposable income, and will adjust their purchasing behaviour accordingly. Therefore, as a means of tackling alcohol misuse, attempting to use market forces may not be as effective as presumed.


  Revenue income from alcohol is estimated to be around £6 billion.

  The estimated cost of hospital treatment in Scotland for alcohol related illnesses and accidents is £180 million, the annual costs to the Scottish Ambulance Service is £21 million, 1:7 of acute admissions to hospital are related to the misuse of alcohol, and around 50 per cent of seriously injured patients admitted via Accident and Emergency had an alcohol related injury. These figures are likely to be under-estimates because often alcohol is the underlying cause, which is not always recorded.

  The actual level of funding for services relating to alcohol misuse is unclear because of the complex inter-relationship between alcohol related problems and forms of service delivery. In particular, spend on the broader social problems related to alcohol misuse is not as yet adequately recorded. This issue is being addressed by the Scottish Advisory Committee on Alcohol Misuse.

  The SCA would argue that greater attention needs to be paid to the social costs and consequences of alcohol misuse, and that funding needs to be targeted at that area.

  It would be helpful to have an audit of spending on alcohol issues across the breadth of issues and services, which provide for those with alcohol related problems. This would allow the identification of where money was spent and enable a best value form of analysis. Currently SACAM is preparing an audit of services, which should provide effective baseline information on current service levels.

  The SCA would argue that new money should be targeted to priorities such as:


    —  One of the seven most common and important causes of social exclusion is the misuse of alcohol (DGV reference European Commission).

    —  The stress of poverty can lead to over-drinking, whilst over-drinking can cause poverty, ill health and long term unemployment.

    —  One in three people seeking help for their drinking problems is unemployed (SCA Statistics 1999) 10,000 people per day receiving help for their drinking problems (UK).

    —  One in every three Local Council on Alcohol Service Users is unemployed or receiving incapacity benefit (SCA Statistics 1999).

Children and families

  The devastating impact of a drinking parent or parents on children and young people is largely hidden and unrecorded:

    —  Heavy drinking is a common factor in family break-up.

    —  Children living with a drinker have higher levels of behavioural difficulty, school related problems and emotional disturbance, than other children.

    —  Children living with a drinker have higher levels of dysfunction, than children whose parents have other mental or physical problems.

    —  Many or most children living with a drinker suffer from psychological and physical abuse and are often badly neglected (Barbar, 1994 Simpson, 1993 Children of problem drinkers Zeitlin 1994).

    —  At least 85,000 children in Scotland are living with a problem drinker.


Crime and violence

    —  Between 60 and 70 per cent of men who assault their partners do so under the influence of alcohol.

    —  Alcohol is a factor in a third of all child abuse cases.

    —  The assailant or victim has been drinking in 65 per cent of murders and 75 per cent of stabbings

    —  The annual cost of drink related traffic crime is £50 million (Measures for Measures).

Community safety

    —  A survey of Probation Officers found that nearly 30 per cent of their clients and 58 per cent of remand and sentenced prisoners had severe alcohol problems (NAPO 1994).

    —  In 41 per cent of contact crime, including assault and mugging, the offender had been drinking. (Home Office 1996).

    —  One in five of all violent crimes takes place in and around licensed premises (Safer Scotland Campaign).


Prices of soft drinks in pubs

  This issue has been raised with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), who have decided not to conduct an investigation into the price of soft drinks in pubs. The OFT believe pubs operate in a competitive market and that OFT powers under competitive legislation cannot be used to address public health measures.

  The Department of Trade and Industry conducted a survey on the price of soft drinks in pubs and found that 70 per cent of pubs were not displaying prices adequately. It also found that the difference between what was paid by consumers in off licenses and supermarkets compared to what they paid in pubs, was considerably greater for soft drinks than for beer and lager. The Price Marketing (Food and Drink) Order 1979 is now being reviewed in light of this lack of price transparency to see how it can be improved and updated to ensure that consumers get clear information to enable them to price compare.

  The SCA argues that the prohibitive cost of soft drinks and bottled waters in places where alcohol is purchased mitigates against other initiatives which are targeted at sensible and safe drinking. For example in those places where "nominated driver schemes" exist, efforts are made to reduce the costs of non-alcoholic drinks. Were this pricing practice to become more widespread, it is likely this would encourage the spread of these initiatives.

  Of major concern is the spread of irresponsible promotion of alcohol, such as cheap drink initiatives, drinking games, and fixed price promotions. Such practices encourage binge drinking with resultant community safety and health issues. There is a strong view expressed in Scotland that the review of licensing law should address this issue.



  The number of alcohol deaths* is increasing each year as follows:

1996 - 964; 1997 - 1021; 1998 - 1075; 1999 -- 1149

Hospital admissions

  Alcohol related hospital admissions place a significant burden on the NHS with one in seven of acute hospital admissions being related to the misuse of alcohol. (Canning 1999)

  Around half of seriously injured patients admitted via A & E and needing to stay in hospital had an alcohol related injury (Dyehous 1995)


  Estimated number of patients with severe drinking problems seen monthly by GP's in the Greater Glasgow Health Board area is 4,700.

Excessive and binge drinking

  In the Greater Glasgow Area alone 30,000 males and 3,000 females are drinking more than twice the recommended limit eg this is in excess of 42 units of alcohol per week for males and more than 28 units of alcohol for females.

  Scotland has a cultural norm of binge drinking, particularly excessive heavy drinking on Friday and Saturday nights. This may be considered as socialising/good time etc, but binge drinking carries its own health risks, different from heavy regular drinking. For example, a review of statistics conducted by the Scottish NHS, argue that an excess of deaths from coronary heart disease occurred on Mondays, amongst people, including those under 50 with no previous hospital admission for CHD, is partly attributable to weekend binge drinking.

  Ths Scottish definition of a "good time" too often relates to that of being drunk.

  Large numbers of intoxicated persons place an enormous strain on resources particularly the police and accident and emergency services.

  Alcohol is a significant factor in:

    —  80 per cent of road traffic accidents involving pedestrians between the hours of 10.00pm and 4.00am

    —  66 per cent of fire fatalities for men

    —  46 per cent of fire fatalities for women

  (All in a Night's Work, The Scottish Office 1993).

Sexual Health & Teenage Pregnancy

  Alcohol is a significant risk factor in relation to sexual health and unplanned pregnancy.

  Britain has the worst record on teenage pregnancies in Europe. In its report on teenage pregnancy, the Social Exclusion Unit highlights the importance of alcohol in teenage sex, pointing to research that shows that after drinking alcohol one in seven, 16 to 24 year olds have had unsafe sex. (Social Exclusion Unit 1999a)

  A recent report on the drinking patterns of young people indicated that within Europe, Britain is at the top of the league for alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs consumption. These statistics should inform policy makers that a high priority should be given to resource initiatives which tackle these problems.


  The SCA manages the Servers Intervention Programme which is a training programme aimed at licensees, servers, and bar staff. This programme aims to establish minimum standards around the sale of alcohol underpinning licensing law. The service has developed into a partnership between the voluntary sector, the trade, the industry, the legal profession, and licensing professionals. There is a determination amongst the partners to create a safer, pleasanter and more responsible environment for the consumption of alcohol through this programme, and many of the issues on which you have requested a response are currently under discussion in this context.

  Evidence from this approach, and from the Drinkwise campaign which is also managed by The SCA confirms that no one approach to the problems of alcohol misuse is more effective than another. However, by engaging in partnership with parties interested in promoting the sensible drinking approach, coupled with a spectrum of approaches targeted at issues associated with alcohol misuse are more likely to have a positive impact on the population's drinking behaviour.

The Scottish Council on Alcohol

February 2001

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