Sky TV rang me up at 1.45pm today to come into their studio in Isleworth to rant at the latest rubbish from the anti-alcohol brigade. Drinkers in middle-class areas are more likely to consume “hazardous” amounts according to the North West Public Health Observatory, commissioned by the Department of Health. But “hazardous amounts”, according to these people, starts at one and a half pints of beer a day, or a large glass of wine ditto. What planet are they on?
Second, while all the newspaper headlines today are about how the allegedly greatest number of “hazard level” drinkers are in affluent areas such as Runnymede in Surrey, and Harrogate in Yorkshire, the Department of Health have literally made these figures up. Their own report admits they don’t have figures to anything like that degree of geographical detail:
Sample sizes are not sufficiently large enough to allow for annual analysis of the data below Government Office region and even combining years does not allow local authority measures to be derived except through the use of synthetic estimates. Although many local areas conduct local lifestyle surveys it is currently difficult to aggregate the data from such surveys since the questions asked and the methods of collection can be sufficiently different to not allow consistent data definitions.”
What they have done is take the percentages of particular social types nationally who “drink to a hazardous level”, who tend to be the more affluent, settled, secure types found in areas such as Runnymede, Guildford, Harrogate and so on, and mapped those social classes to their percentages in individual local authority areas, multiplied one by the other, and claimed this as the percentage of “hazard level” drinkers in those areas.
Sadly, I had an unbreakable appointment to be elsewhere, so I couldn’t get out my soapbox and enlighten Sky’s (small) audience with my views on rubbish statistics, distortions and mythical and invented drinking limits.
Of course, the proper response to health fascists has to be: “Sod off and mind your own business. ” It is the responsibility of individuals to freely weigh up for themselves the risks of their freely chosen actions, from hang-gliding and mountaineering to taking the top off a bottle of beer. Self-appointed nannies should present the evidence, if they wish, and then butt out, and certainly not presume to lecture, harass or threaten.
The anti-alcohol campaigners will parade a list of the evils that drink can do, without properly enumerating what actual number of drinkers end up as victims to these evils. They will attempt to squash critics with figures about “the cost to the NHS” – Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, claims “Alcohol misuse represents a cost to the NHS of £1.7 billion” without saying how much of this represents fixed costs which have to be paid for anyway.
The report also admits that it’s poverty that will do for you more than drink:
Admission rates for alcohol-specific conditions for both males and females show a strong positive association with deprivation with rates being especially high for the most deprived quintile.”
What about under-age drinking? The report reveals that
the percentage of 15-16 year olds hospitalised or admitted to an emergency room due to alcohol use in the UK is higher than most other countries for females, but around average for males.”
British teenagers normal, then. You won’t read that in the Daily Mail, however, because it doesn’t fit their keep ’em scared agenda.
On alcohol crime, the report found that constant propaganda from such as the Daily Mail means people believe it’s getting worse:
Among members of the public, the percentage perceiving alcohol to be a major cause of crime in Britain is increasing, rising from 36 per cent in 2002/03-2003/04 to 47.9 per cent in 2004/05-2005/06. Similarly, the percentage of people stating that alcohol is the main cause of crime in Britain today has increased from around 2.7 per cent to 5.7 per cent over the same time period.
But, surprise, the actual case is that it’s getting better:
In 2006/07, 512,863 recorded crimes in England were attributable to alcohol, a rate of 10.2 per 1,000 population. This was a decrease on the rate seen in 2005/06 (10.5) and 2004/05 (11.4). A similar decreasing trend was seen for recorded violent crime attributable to alcohol, where rates decreased slightly from 7.8 per 100,000 in 2004/05, to 7.3 in 2005/06 and to 7.2 in 2006/07.
Let’s have a few more facts from the report:
Over 90 per cent of adults in Britain drink alcohol. Between 2000 and 2004, the proportion of people drinking on most days of the week remained relatively stable (at around 14 per cent). However, the percentage of people drinking once or twice a week fell slightly (from 30 per cent to 26 per cent), while those drinking less frequently increased slightly (for example, the percentage drinking once or twice a year increased from 7 per cent to 9 per cent).
So, no huge increase in drinking, then. Still, nobody’s telling the truth anyway: the report reveals that
HM Revenue and Customs excise data suggest that alcohol purchases are nearly double the self-reported consumption levels reported by the Office for National Statistics in the General Household Survey.”
So if we’re all really drinking twice as much as we say we are, that makes those government advice figures based on claimed consumption levels and perceived harm look even more stupid …