Apas Nottingham Drinker

Published on August 18th, 2013 | by Nottingham Drinker


Apas – Old wine in new bottles

Nick Tegerdine discusses what CAMRA can do to influence the powers that be, and why it needs to happen.

I believe that unless there is an enlightened approach to alcohol problems locally, and soon, we will be forced towards a Scandinavian style system. CAMRA can and must get involved. In the Nordic countries where most alcohol for home consumption can only be bought in state controlled stores – and with a prohibitive pricing policy. Supporters of the system in Sweden and Norway claim a measurable public health benefit. However, arguably the main benefit of the alcohol policies in Scandinavian countries has been a reduction of alcohol related violence in the home and on the streets. These issues are major concerns hereabouts and will remain so.

Much of what happens to reduce alcohol related harm is largely cosmetic, and is simply not working. Violence against the person at home is increasing, both in frequency and severity. Alcohol is implicated in the vast majority of cases. Meanwhile, cheaper and stronger alcohol is more readily available than ever before from off licences, whilst public houses are closing. CAMRA supports well managed pubs and so do I, because there is there an element of control of consumption and behaviour.

The recently appointed Chief Constable for Scotland, Stephen House, a wise man who I have quoted before in this organ, said that the biggest issue facing his officers is the excessive consumption of alcohol at home.

CAMRA has moved to challenge the oppressive PubCo culture and to promote local community pubs. The UK pub culture is not understood by some policy makers and they don’t worry about pubs closing. Despite the ever spiraling price differential between on and off licenses, resulting in the closure of premises where alcohol consumption is monitored and controlled in a way that it cannot be in the home, people in positions of power and authority admit that they are ‘pleased’ when pubs close because they ‘won’t have to police them’.

Locally the emerging structures in public health (now a County Council project) and in the supposedly GP led clinical commissioning groups will focus on medical needs and health harms. There may be prevention campaigns based upon the UK units system (essentially the more you drink the greater your risk of harm). There will still be reactive services for when people are really poorly, focused on the individual not the community and looking at health consequences rather than social consequences, and certainly not examining the context of the problematic drinking, the where and the what.

The issue of licensing remains with local authorities, who are facing deeper cuts to budgets next year. Some argue that they can do little more than process applications efficiently, get the fees in, whilst acknowledging that there is no capacity to do anything else.

Prison services are ‘medicalising’ their addictions services. The focus is on prisoner health and the idea of dealing with the addiction whilst the person is deprived of her / his liberty is being effectively reduced to advice giving by medically trained people.

The Probation Service remains troubled by targets and workload, and so the highest risk offenders are inevitably prioritised whilst the lower level offenders are ‘managed’ in a way that a very experienced colleague in Probation described to me as being ‘entirely about doing nothing meaningful’.

What about the mental health services? The alcohol problem was for many years seen as simply a mental disorder, something that affected an individual only. This model argued that the problem drinker was not only sad, sometimes bad, but essentially mad. This of course ensured that the medical perspective could hoover up enormous amounts of money for research, whilst the problem simply continued to grow.

There’s not much that CAMRA can do about most of the above. However, there are people within those statutory structures that are open to new ideas so we must keep on.

An opportunity denied to CAMRA is the ‘conference circuit’. Recently the newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners have been organising conferences to explore the relationship between alcohol consumption and crime. The alcohol issue in particular has been unhelpfully ‘medicalised’ over time, with the social issues arising largely ignored. Crime due to alcohol has been marginalized and occasionally denied. One chap insisted to me that there was no crime to do with drink because the ‘only reason’ people stole anything was because they needed money for drugs. The most worrying thing is that he really believed that. Denial takes many forms indeed, and I am truly sorry to say that the aforementioned person subsequently lost his job for drug using at work.

Back to the conferences, the usual suspects were there, but unsurprisingly there was an absence of alternative perspectives. CAMRA is just one such alternative, since the organisation does more to reduce harm and to promote responsible retailing than many who are paid to do that. It was therefore disappointing but not surprising that CAMRA did not receive an invitation to the recent conferences. I firmly believe that the omission will not happen again.

Organisational change and policy change depends upon behavior and people changing. In health for example, there have been a number of reorganisations. If you or a family member has an addiction problem it makes no difference. Despite the new buildings and new job titles, it’s often the same people, the job creation scheme continued.  It’s the ‘old wine in new bottles’ argument, or nothing changes until something changes. The sign on the door may be different but the attitudes and values of many of the people behind the doors remain largely the same, and results in addictive behavior problems not being dealt with effectively. Radical non-intervention therapy is what I call it, and it is very infectious.

It’s time now for CAMRA to take the campaigning to another level. Not just about pub closures, but about why supporting community pubs and local business is good for emotional wellbeing and economic prosperity. Then, that there are benefits for physical health as well, by promoting responsibility in consumption (how much), in retailing (what is sold), and in the benefits of fresh, local products.

In a nutshell, drink is like food and sex: we want quality not quantity, and choice. That is what CAMRA is about and it’s time for CAMRA to get to the conference table.
Nick Tegerdine


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