The politics of drinking
goes off the booze, shock!
You may not
know it from the headlines and an increasingly vociferous anti-alcohol
lobby, but for a few years now, people here have been drinking less and
less. Those whose agenda dictates that drink is dragging us into
anarchy, that we live in a Binge Britain, that we have all fallen sick
in an alcohol problem of epidemic proportions may have fudged around the
figures, but the trend is unarguable.
Now the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has produced a vaulable report
which brings together the major pieces of research into UK alcohol
consumption. Despite the authors' cautious conclusions there is
remarkable agreement across the board. We are drinking less.
And that goes
especially for young people, for whom the decline could almost be described
as sharp. What's happening to our binge drinkers? It's almost worrying.
Are they not feeling well?
The JRF has
its roots in Christian temperance. Joseph Rowntree himself was one of
the more moderate temperance campaigners of the the late 19th and early
20th centuries. No, prohibitionist he nevertheless favoured state
control of the drink trade and had a vision for a less boozy kind of
So the report
keeps trying to warn us that the research may not be all it appears.
'Adjusted' figures are introduced which attempt to take into account
people drinking larger glasses of win these days, and stronger beers
(despite the recent success of 4% ABV imported lagers taking sales away
from the 5% stuff).
At a quick
glance this makes it look like consumption has suddenly shot up. But
it's the trend that counts.
evidence is highlighted. Women's consumption is closing the gap on men's
consumption. Northern Ireland is, mysteriously, bucking the trend.
interesting. Both these examples arguably reflect positive social
developments. A growing equality for women. The Northern Ireland peace
Belfast, in particular, has become a great place to go out drinking.
People are no longer confined to their own communities.
alcohol consumption, you could say, reflects populations celebrating new
freedoms. It doesn't mean there aren't problems associated with drink,
where people are alienated and depressed. But for most people most of
the time drinking is a happy kind of thing.
It's just a
shame we have to keep pointing out something that's so obvious.
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