The Culture Department have published a review of the impact of the changes in licensing laws. The conclusions attained were ambiguous; it was reported that the response to the lenient licensing laws was ‘mixed’.
The 24 hour drinking legislation was introduced in November 2005 in a bid to decrease alcohol related crime and anti-social behaviour. The rationale behind these apparently controversial changes was that, extending licenses could prevent the violence associated with masses of people leaving different venues at the same fixed closing time. Conversely, some believe that the changes have in fact exacerbated the problems related to excessive alcohol consumption.
Yet, the change in opening hours has not led to a significant reduction in crime and disorder. Overall, the levels of alcohol related violence remained the same, with a slight movement of violent crime to the earlier hours of the morning. Zoe Williams of The Guardian satirically suggests, “If the relaxation of licensing laws has had any beneficial impact on crime, then perhaps it is to keep burglars in the pub, giving them less time to burgle.” So, it would seem that the controversy these laws inflamed was quite unnecessary, the consequences of binge drinking remaining infused within our culture.
The laws are set to tighten. Notably, introducing increases in fines for drinking in streets where it is banned, and the creation of ‘alcohol free zones’ in problem areas. Yet, one can only be sceptical about these governmental attempts to intervene with a nation already more than half-cut. Surely, the fact that alcohol has become so far ingrained within our culture, that the pint is our paradigm, justifies such doubts. For despite these paternalist attempts to cut alcohol related crime, there has been no attempt to investigate the fundamental nature of the crisis. Unfortunately, part of the cause of the problem lies within the fact that alcohol consumption remains, as it always has, central to many of the social rituals and recreations of modern society. This contradicts the anti-alcohol messages currently projected by the media, but these images appear to be a ‘moral front’ before an indifferent face. It is evident that the issue of binge drinking has not been confronted, since alcohol consumption still operates within the boundaries of social normality.
The problem of binge drinking is not so much a new phenomena. The ‘Gin Craze’ of the Eighteenth Century gave rise to a drinking culture among the working class. However, this was largely due to the governmental stimulation of the distilling industry, resulting in an increased production of cheap Gin. Perhaps the main difference between the contemporary drinking crisis, and that of the ‘Gin Craze’, is that the former is controlled, administered and aware of its consequences. From this one, must arrive at the conclusion that the problem of binge drinking must be penetrated from its origins within society. Direct prevention strategies should prevail, since the current limitations to our drinking liberties appear to be a weak treatment for a currently incurable disease.