Saturday 21 September 2013

Misleading alcohol statistic of the day

The moral panic about '24 hour drinking' has been revived this week for some reason. According to some copper in The Telegraph, a single instance of drunken behaviour requires seventeen officers and staff. As Timmy points out, this says more about the inefficiency of the police service that it does about Boozy Britain, but it acts as a springboard for a moan about one of the only decent pieces of legislation the last government introduced..

Mr Lee also attacked the previous Labour government's 24 – hour licensing regime, which has since been rowed back. He said the attempt to introduce a "café culture" had failed.

He said: "I think the café culture was an entirely legitimate experiment but I don't think it has worked."

It would be more relevant to say that the '24 hour licensing regime' failed to bring about 24 hour drinking. Round the clock availability remains confined to airports and a few hotels. If the Licensing Act has to have a nickname, it should be 'An Extra Hour Drinking (At Weekends, If You're Lucky)'.

I don't much care about café culture - a silly phrase Blair used to appeal to his bourgeois comrades in New Labour - but nor do I want to live under licensing laws that were dreamt up by David Lloyd George during the First World War. If we are to evaluate the 2005 Act, we should compare the hysterical predictions made by almost every newspaper with what actually happened. By almost every objective criteria, the panic merchants were absolutely wrong.

Only by misrepresenting the evidence can the press maintain their earlier narrative. The last paragraph of the Telegraph's report is a humdinger in this respect.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 people are fined for being drunk and disorderly each year, meaning more than a third of million since 24 – hour drinking was introduced in 2005.

The obvious implication is that the Licensing Act led to more people being arrested for being drunk and disorderly - and that this is all terribly expensive - but we are not given sufficient information to draw any such conclusion. Had the Telegraph bothered to compare the number of offences for drunkenness before and after 2005, they would have seen the full picture. Figures below show the number of drunkenness offences in the UK, including cautions and convictions (from the BBPA Statistical Handbook, 2012: p. 84).

2000: 45,743
2001: 43,318
2002: 43,545
2003: 46,271
2004: 34,902
2005: 24,990
2006: 21,820
2007: 23,768
2008: 26,978
2009: 25,934
2010: 24,718

These figures go back to 1965 when the total was 80,969. The peak year was 1980 when there were 124,380 recorded offences. That works out as a rate of 27.8 per 10,000 adults. By 2010, that rate had fallen to just 4.8 per 10,000 adults.

You can argue that much of this decline is the result of the police being more lenient, not doing their job properly or arresting people under some of the many other laws they have at their disposal. Certainly it seems highly unlikely that the huge drop between 2003 and 2005 was due entirely to 'revellers' (as the press invariably term them) being better behaved. You can also argue that these revellers would be better behaved if the police made more arrests for public drunkenness. I am sympathetic to both arguments.

But what you cannot say is that there has been a surge in the number of people being arrested for drunkenness and that this has put an immense strain on police resources. The facts are clear. Arrests for drunkenness have fallen since so-called 24 hour drinking began. It is meaningless to say that there have been "more than a third of a million" such offences since 2005 (aside from the fact that there actually haven't) without putting it in the context of the 1970s when there were a third of a million such offences every three years. Back then, of course, it wouldn't have required seventeen state officials to carry each of them out.


Unknown said...

Off-topic: Interesting to note the long downtrend in the number of drunkenness offences in the UK has stopped precisely with the smoking ban in 2007. Since that year the curve has trended slightly up.

We can observe the same tendency in male suicides in Denmark. Three decades of falling figures came to an end in 2007. Since that year the figures have been rising or flat - today 10% above the year of the smoking ban.

That is the irony of a "public health" controlled society. It is very unhealthy for its citizens.

Ivan D said...

I cannot be the only person who has noticed that the Telegraph has a thing about alcohol. Its editor is certainly not going to let facts get in the way of a puritanical campaign.

Mr Lee is not doing a great deal for the reputation of the police. His obsession is clearly clouding his judgement.