Last week, the National Violence Surveillance Network at Cardiff University announced that the number of people being admitted to accident and emergency (A&E) departments in the UK as a result of violent crime has fallen by 12 per cent since last year. The alleged reason: falling numbers of young people drinking.
The fall in alcohol consumption among young people is in turn said to be due to the rising cost of booze in real terms in recent years. Anti-fun lobbyists like the British Medical Association have claimed that this is a strong argument for introducing minimum pricing on alcohol. Such groups hope that putting booze beyond the reach of yet more young people will further reduce violent crime. The idea that fewer people drinking means we should put up the price of booze is strange reasoning. If violent crime were rising, they’d presumably say that was a good argument for bringing in minimum pricing, too.
The evidence for a causal link between fewer young people drinking, the cost of alcohol and the fall in violent crime is tenuous at best, and was brilliantly debunked by author Christopher Snowdon on his blog. He showed that when one looks at the past two decades of figures, there is not a significant correlation or causation between alcohol consumption among young people and the fall in violent crime. Alcohol affordability is, at most, a minor factor in the changing rate of A&E admissions.
But regardless of whether the link is causal or not, it is not a reason to bring in minimum pricing on booze. The idea that minimum pricing would only affect young drinkers is false; it would have a detrimental effect on the social lives of anyone on a lower income who enjoys a drink. Such a punitive measure, where a lot of people suffer for the misdeeds of a few idiots, is never justified.
By implication, these attitudes betray a belief that adults cannot be expected to control their actions when they drink, when, of course they should. This lets the perpetrators who commit violent crimes while drunk off the hook by not holding them accountable for their crimes, while infantilising the rest of us. A person who punches someone while drunk is as culpable as someone who is sober. The duty falls on the individual to behave sensibly on a night out, and the fact is that, apart from perhaps singing annoyingly loudly on the night bus, most young people do. The majority of young people who go out drinking will never end up in A&E, or indeed put someone else there. The majority of those who do end up in A&E will usually be admitted for minor injuries and won’t even be kept in overnight.