The end of Boozy Britain?

Saturday 17 October, 17.30 until 18.45, Frobisher Auditorium 2, Barbican Everyday Liberties

Much of the discussion surrounding alcohol in Britain these days is linked to either public health or crime. Boozing, it seems, can only be viewed as a threat to our livers or the fuel for public disorder.

In 2011, for example, Dr Vivienne Nathanson of the British Medical Association declared that ‘we have to start denormalising alcohol’ in the interests of our health. Town centres are heavily policed lest boozed-up young people engage in antisocial behaviour, and there are constant complaints about the pressure placed on Accident & Emergency departments by inebriated revellers who hurt themselves or get hurt by others. Yet all the recent figures suggest serious crime is falling. So, too, is the amount people are drinking, with the rate of ‘binge drinking’ falling from 18 per cent to 15 per cent since 2005. Young people in particular seem to be drinking less – or even giving up drink altogether, with the proportion of teetotal young adults rising from 19 per cent in 2005 to 27 per cent in 2013. Nonetheless, some commentators still insist that alcohol-related crime as is a major menace to our society.

Yet is the decline of drinking really something to be celebrated? Some might suggest on the contrary that the relaxation and fun that alcohol can enable are things worth defending. Drinking alcohol is among the most enduring shared experiences in most cultures. From Plato’s Symposium onwards, we have often celebrated, consoled, danced and even philosophised (to better or worse effect) with wine and other drinks. Yet the pleasures of alcohol are rarely discussed when we discuss its harms.

Why then are young people drinking less today than ever before? Is it a progressive step that reflects the autonomy of young adults, boldly and confidently making choices? Or is it part of a broader disdain for the idea of experimenting with new experiences, of interacting with other people of other generations and learning to know one’s limits? At a time when tobacco is almost universally condemned, should alcohol face the same rap and be banned in public places? Whatever the reasons for the decline, should we celebrate a more sober society that is healthier and safer, or lament the rise of a new puritanism?

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Daisy Blench
policy manager - alcohol policy and responsibility, British Beer & Pub Association

Neil Davenport
sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist

Dr Clare Gerada
GP; past chair, Royal College of General Practitioners

Sian Jarvis
managing director, Jarvis & Bo Communications; former director general of communications, Department of Health

Christopher Snowdon
director, lifestyle economics, Institute of Economic Affairs; author, The Art of Suppression

Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)

Produced by
Alan Miller chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)
Recommended readings
Britain needs fewer pubs, top cop suggests

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, says Britain's licensing system needs reform if we are to tackle alcohol fuelled violence

Martin Evans, The Telegraph, 12 March 2015

Binge-drinking continues to fall in young adults

Binge-drinking among young adults in Britain is continuing to fall, figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

Mark Easton, BBC, 13 February 2015

Violent crime in England and Wales falls again, A&E data shows

There was a 12% fall in injuries from violent incidents in 2013, according to data from almost a third of emergency departments examined by Cardiff University.

Dominic Casciani, BBC, 23 April 2014

Last orders for the British Boozers

Going to a pub was a way for young people, pints in hand, to learn to behave like adults. No more.

Neil Davenport, spiked, 3 September 2013

Alcohol Consumption in the UK Infographics

Infographics showing the numbers about alcohol in the UK

Portman Group

Campaign Against the Booze Bans

There has been a creeping introduction of alcohol bans in public spaces all around the UK .We believe public space should be exactly that - a place where we can come together as a public - to argue and campaign, to pursue our common goals, to chat with friends and socialise.

Manifesto Club

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