The Dangers of Deregulation, the UK Experience

An update to the report “The Dangers of Alcohol Deregulation: The UK Experience” is now available.

The original report was written in 2009 following five decades of deregulation in the UK. Consumption had doubled, and drinking rates among women had increased greatly. “Preloading” at home with less expensive store-bought booze put the traditional British pub at a disadvantage and many closed. Alcohol could now be sold in more locations and could be purchased 24 hours a day.

Alcohol-related hospital admissions and liver cirrhosis doubled in just 10 years. Underage drinking rates were almost twice that of the United States. Violence and high rates of intoxication in entertainment centers drained resources for enforcement and emergency services.

The first attempts to deal with these issues were tax increases. Higher prices can be a good strategy to curb drinking among price conscious younger drinkers and habitual users, but the cost was not passed on to consumers and cheap booze was still widely available at more locations and for longer hours.

By the time of the 2012 update, consumption had gone down but was still very high. The effort to create a moderate-drinking, 24-hour café culture like that of European countries had not materialized; binge drinking and alcohol-fueled violence grew in entertainment districts. Municipalities tried to use Late Night Levies and Early Morning Restriction Orders to pay for the extra services needed in the late-night economy, with limited success.

The health effects of heavy drinking can take a while to become apparent and are a great burden on families and the health care system. The National Health Service spends £3.5 billion each year on alcohol-related illnesses and injuries

But there is some good news. Young people are drinking less. The number of 11-15 year olds that have tried alcohol is the lowest it has been since the survey started in 1988.

The organized charity event “Dry January” now has over a million participants who abstain or lower their alcohol consumption for the month of January to raise awareness about the positive effects of drinking less. Funds raised go to a national charity that works on reducing alcohol harm.

Although business opportunities are created when rules are loosened, the cost to society in the form of healthcare, emergency services and lost productivity cannot be overlooked. This is an important lesson for us in the United States.

The report can be found at:

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