David Cameron vows to tackle binge drinking 'scandal'


David Cameron: "This is a national problem and it needs a government to focus on it"

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Prime Minister David Cameron has called for bars, supermarkets and the drinks industry in England to do more to help ensure responsible drinking.

On a visit to a hospital in north-east England, he promised to tackle the "scandal" of drunkenness and alcohol abuse that costs the NHS £2.7bn a year.

He suggested the use of US-inspired "drunk tanks", cells to house people overnight while they sober up.

But Labour dismissed Mr Cameron's proposals as "warm words".

The government will publish its alcohol strategy for England later this year.

A ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price - less than the tax paid on it - is set to be introduced in England and Wales from 6 April.

But ministers are expected to go further in the forthcoming strategy, recommending a higher minimum price for drink.

'Costs jobs'

Scotland has already introduced an Alcohol Bill, which could become law before the summer, although ministers have yet to set a minimum cost per unit.

But opponents of a minimum unit price say it is unfair because it penalises all drinkers, not just those who cause or have problems.

Actor Daniel Radcliffe, who admitted struggling with alcohol, says young people feel pressured to drink

It is thought any move could also be open to legal challenges relating to European competition law, which - according to the European Commission - is aimed at pushing down prices for consumers and allowing firms to operate in a free market.

The British Beer and Pub Association said there was "a danger it would be done through higher taxation, which would be hugely damaging to pub-goers, community pubs and brewers, costing thousands of vital jobs".

During his hospital visit, the prime minister criticised the "reckless" behaviour of an "irresponsible" minority and cited figures suggesting alcohol-related costs to society could total between £17bn and £22bn a year.

'Sense of respect'

He said the last decade had seen a "frightening growth" in the number of people who thought it was "acceptable for people to get drunk in public in ways that wreck lives, spread fear and increase crime", many of them under the legal drinking age.

Figures suggest alcohol abuse costs accident and emergency services £1bn.

Mr Cameron promised to help the NHS "rise to the challenge", including putting more police on patrol in hospitals.

GP Peter Baines: "Right to focus on alcohol and the problems it can cause"

"We need innovative solutions to confront the rising tide of unacceptable behaviour," he said.

"This isn't just about more rules and regulation. It's about responsibility and a sense of respect for others."

He added: "Every Friday and Saturday night A&E can be overrun with people drunk and incapable who have injured themselves."

Mr Cameron urged the drinks industry, supermarkets, pubs and clubs to work with the government to ensure that "responsible drinking becomes a reality and not just a slogan".

Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group which represents drinks producers, said his members were "determined to be effective partners in tackling public drunkenness, which is an embarrassment to us all".

Simon Antrobus, chief executive of alcohol treatment charity Addaction, said that while it was important to ensure drinks retailers took more responsibility, properly-funded support for charities helping problem drinkers was also vital.

"Addressing the root cause of someone's problems is, in our professional experience, the most effective way to tackle their drinking," he said.

For Labour, shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: "There's undoubtedly an important debate to be had about alcohol and when the government publishes its long-awaited strategy we'll play our part.

"But today's warm words from the prime minister look hastily thrown together. On a day when over 100,000 members of the public have joined NHS staff in calling on David Cameron to drop his reckless Health Bill, he is dodging the difficult questions and desperately trying to distract attention."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    We seem to be moving towards prohibitions. Good move, that worked so well in the past for curbing alcohol related crime.

    Raise the prices and there will be a market to exploit followed by people shipping cheap booze in from abroad, or simply distilling it themselves.

    People will always find a way to get what they want so perhaps we should try to offer them an alternative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    What needs fixing is how drinking and 'being drunk' is perceived by your peers. I'm from Germany and being tipsy and merry is fine, being drunk and misbehaving is not. Your mates think you're a fool for not knowing your limits and when to stop. Here, being completely plastered is considered 'cool'. A general price-hike in alcohol is not going to fix the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Alcohol is a nasty messy horrible drug, I am a recovering alcoholic of nearly 8 years sober and seeing this "legal high" on adverts and everywhere in supermarkets being virtually thrown at you does not help.
    With deaths recorderd of some 40k per year and thats just the ones who are recorded which is maybe 10%

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Until the smoking ban I went to my local pub three nights a week.I would drink four pints. I will not be browbeaten into giving up smoking and am not standing outside smoking so I stopped going to the pub.Instead I get four cans from my local off licence and save around £8 a week into the bargain. My local shut last month.Controlled drinking,jobs,mates,all lost forever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    There isn't an easy fix, overuse of alcohol is a symptom, not a cause. Bump up the prices, collect the tax and be seen to be 'doing good' is not an intelligent response. The answer lies in the reasons people drink, and government policy and failed social engineering is part of that. I suppose their answer would be, 'work harder, working solves all problems...'


Comments 5 of 11


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