Thursday, 2 September 2010

Northerners Drink more? So what?

The BBC brings us the news ( that the North West health observatory reports that problem drinking is more prevalent in the North of England than the South. The North East and North West have a much higher prevalence of health problems often linked to alcohol consumption.

Now I'm not going to say that alcohol is good for your health. Far from it. But I really object to the way journalists immediately portray it as a North South divide and then immediately conclude that problems of higher alcohol consumption will be dealt with by minimum pricing.

Funnily enough looking at the graph below (from the BBC website) its interesting to see that Westmorland and North Yorkshire have a much lower level of harm. Its because they are more affluent areas.

Now look at the map below, based on the Indices of Deprivation, showing roughly which areas of England (and Wales) are richer than each other. Purple areas are the most deprived. So, unsurprisingly it isn't that Northerners are intrinsically more alcoholic. It's that they are poorer and it seems that poorer people tend to self medicate with more alcohol to get through things. It's not surprising. But will minimum pricing stop people drinking? Possibly not. It could just mean Alcohol becomes a bigger part of peoples budget. Hard to say. As a Liberal, I believe that people should be able to do what they want as long as it doesn't harm others. Obviously Alcohol consumption harms other people by reducing life span and by the problems in alcohol related violence. But I think the argument is still in favour of personal freedom.

I think it is interesting to see where alcohol harm is disproportionate to poverty. That would take an additional study but it was interesting to read that it was in London where Alcohol related crime was disproportionate. However, having once worked with crime statistics, I would take them with a pinch of salt!

In Scotland, the devolved government has been able to introduce specific initiatives to deal with problems more prevalent in that country, such as Heroin addiction. It would be nice to have more freedom to act on that in the North. But this report does not alter my lack of comfort with the idea that public health bodies can make a poor area as healthy as a rich area. What we need to do to reduce health problems in the North is turn the economy around and reverse the post war slump in the relative prosperity of it. That will need government investment but crucially freedom to let us come up with our own solutions.

1 comment:

  1. Good article Neil and so bleeding true!
    Right I'm off to reach for another can of skol.