Health Committee - The Government's Alcohol StrategyWritten evidence from Northumberland Alcohol Strategy Implementation Group (GAS 32)

The Alcohol Strategy (AS) tends towards a “law and order” approach and would benefit from other targets and outcomes. In particular the AS aims to “turn the tide” against binge drinking, it is weak on a clear strategy around the marketing and promotion of alcohol. Exposing children and young people to alcohol promotion and advertising is irresponsible. Other countries such as France have taken a responsible approach which could be adopted in England. Self regulation of the industry won’t address this, and hasn’t done so to date. The industry is driven by a requirement to raise profit for shareholders and should remain at arm’s length in policy development processes. There is a need to reduce consumption and label bottles, which has so failed on the scale requested. Legislation is needed to effect this.

Of course not all problems relate to young binge drinkers and greater emphasis on a population approach to increasing and higher levels of risk is needed. Support for IBA and liaison nurses is welcomed, however this represents a need for significant resources. Resources are also needed to develop work in schools linked with a social norms approach.

The level of a minimum unit price needs to be evidence based to ensure its effectiveness, and should increase with inflation. Any increased profits from a MUP should be used to address the harms caused by alcohol.

Multibuy and discounted alcohol promotions offered by Supermarkets should be regulated, as the trend towards preloading is a growing problem. Government enforcement to prevent illegal sale of alcohol is increasingly important when pricing policy makes it more expensive. Local police are concerned that theft of alcohol, and illegal sales will increase in Northumberland and are mindful of the extra resources needed to address this. An increase in the price per unit may have an effect in the lower socioeconomic parts of the County. It will undoubtedly affect those who purchase alcohol legitimately, but we may see the theft of alcohol increasing. Additionally, the risks we see around young people and access to alcohol are always present; we work with partners to engage with young people and enforce the message of safety—we have some success with 12–14 year olds (who we find drinking).

Perceptions for us in our communities equally are important and we are working to address the drunk/rowdy perceptions in neighbourhoods. We as ever work with the media and Local Authority, but we are keen to promote positive perceptions of towns around the County and that not all Night Time Economy has an undertone of drunkenness.

The 2010 drug strategy focus on recovery should not dilute the need for guidance on alcohol use disorders. Liver disease is mainly due to alcohol and is a significant cause of death. Funding for alcohol services should meet need and investment in this is lacking.

Public health intervention through sexual health clinics and Change4Life is endorsed and will be supported as part of the wider approach to shifting cultural norms. We feel that raising the legal drinking age should not be approached lightly and should take account of a review of the body of literature which highlights the affects of alcohol on the brain of young adults. Further research into this should be funded and account taken of the findings.

May 2012

Prepared 21st July 2012