News The Government has announced a confused message about crime and alcohol

Treating alcohol differently to other crimes is not a reasonable or reasoned approach.

I have just read the Home Office’s recent publication, “Modern Crime Prevention Strategy” and I am confused.  This is a Paper which contains a summary of the Government’s policy towards crime in England and Wales and accepts certain norms, firstly that crime has fallen rapidly, secondly that crime is changing and thirdly that there are six key drivers of crime – opportunity, character, effectiveness of the Criminal Justice System, profit, drugs and (yes, you’ve guessed it), alcohol.

Alcohol has its own chapter entitled “Alcohol as a driver of crime”.  I would like to be able to tell you in this brief article what the policy is but I am not sure. 

Is it control of alcohol consumption?  The report refers to “reducing consumption ….. is likely to be beneficial in crime prevention” but where is the evidence that reducing consumption will help reduce crime and how is it to be achieved?  Alcohol consumption is already going downwards (as the document accepts).  Why is there not a more targeted approach in relation to those who abuse alcohol rather than those who simply consume it to reasonable levels and with much social and cultural benefit?  This approach is not adopted elsewhere, for example, in relation to car theft which has fallen dramatically not because less cars were produced therefore giving potential thieves less opportunity but by making cars more difficult to steal.  This may seem a rather obtuse comparison but that is because treating alcohol differently to other crimes simply because it is politically possible to do so is not a reasonable or reasoned approach.

Secondly, is the policy to continue with effective partnership working which is acknowledged in the Paper, for example, Pubwatch, Purple Flag, Best Bar None and other largely industry driven initiatives?  The policy does not mention many of the changes which have occurred in the last ten years which have significantly affected alcohol consumption.  Yes, alcohol consumption is down but one in five adults are teetotal, one in four 18 to 24 year olds are teetotal, much more alcohol is consumed as a proportion at home rather than in pubs/bars etc., there has been a dramatic decline not only in pubs but in night clubs such that the London Mayor has instigated an enquiry, and perhaps most significantly of all is the concept of “pre-loading”, meaning that a significant number of mainly young people drink alcohol purchased from off-licences before venturing out into the high street.  Where is the analysis of these changes and their relevance to any policy which intends to reduce alcohol related crime?

Indeed, is the policy designed to deal with problem drinkers or people who drink too much and misbehave or get into fights, or both?

Thirdly, is the policy to introduce even more enforcement powers?  These may be relevant to the issue of reducing consumption (for example, giving cumulative impact policies a statutory footing) but are certainly at odds with partnership working.  The greater flexibility to introduce late night levies and the rather Orwellian sounding “Group Review Intervention Power” which has the frightening acronym of “GRIP” are not targeted at specific premises and will not encourage partnership working.  Are these the son of EMRO and the grandson of Alcohol Disorder Zones, neither of which have ever been introduced?

There are also a number of contradictions and unsubstantiated conclusions.   For example, the policy states that “people should be able to go into the ……. night time economy to socialise [etc.] …… without the fear of becoming a victim of crime.  The lives of the majority of residents in town centres ……. should not be affected by the drunk and rowdy behaviour of a minority”.  Yes, we would all agree with that but only a couple of paragraphs before it states that “18% of adults perceive people being drunk or rowdy as a fairly big problem in their local areas”.  Even if “perception” is a valid ground for making policy then it is a small minority who have this perception, not “the majority of residents in town centres”.

If you are looking for a reasoned and enlightened approach to reducing alcohol problems and alcohol related crime then unfortunately, this is not it.  The majority if not all people would accept that excessive alcohol consumption is bad for health and can lead to social problems and potentially to violence.  How can these issues be addressed to reduce crime and to the benefit of society and citizens as a whole?  I am afraid that the “Modern Crime Prevention Strategy” in relation to alcohol does not provide a coherent answer to any of these questions and is in danger of ignoring all of the steps which have been taken and the improvements made, and of launching another “sledge hammer” to bash the on-trade’s rather brittle nut.