The London Assembly has published a final draft of a report into alcohol use by London’s youth. The report, called ‘Too much too young? Alcohol misuse among young Londoners’ will go before the Health and Public Services Committee meeting on 24 June 2009 for final agreement.
Having read an advance copy I’d urge everyone who has an opinion on the topic to do likewise, there are some surprising revelations (London doesn’t have the worst youth alcohol misuse problem in the country) and some scarily blunt observations from the young people who spoke to the Committee (“recent years It’s £5 to get drunk and you can get a bottle of wine. £5 is not even money – it’s nothing”).
Alcohol misuse and the sale of drink to under 18’s are things I care passionately about, not least because I some years back I used to run an off-licence and know from first-hand experience the pressures managers of such shops face.
Off-licence holders are individually accountable to the courts, if the store is found to have broken the law it’s them who will be prosecuted. Few would argue this is anything but right, but most of those with an opinion on the subject have probably never tried to face down a group of already drunk underage youths who meet a ‘refusal to serve’ with a torrent of abuse and threats of violence.
I remember one incident when member of staff under my care refused to serve a group of clearly under 18 year olds and was greeted with a slew of racist abuse for her efforts.
No doubt some readers will be thinking that the best way of dealing with such a group is to call the police. It’s a nice idea but many forces are simply uninterested in sending officers to answer calls for assistance from shop keepers unless they’re being robbed.
“It’s not a police priority” was the usual response I’d get when complaining about the lack of a response to the previous night’s call for help, local Inspectors would tell you how they lacked the manpower to send officers out just to “ask a few noisy kids to leave an off-licence.”
The groups of youths know the police won’t attend, and this knowledge emboldens and empowers them.
On the other hand, there always seem to be enough officers spare to engage in test purchases, designed to catch out any misbehaving store by sending in underage youths to make purchases. This double standards, officers spare for an easy conviction and a cheap headline, none available to protect staff, is the cause of deepset resentment within the industry.
I’m no apologist for the off-trade, many of their practices sit ill at ease with the lobby group’s public claims of responsibility. Selling drink at a loss, ensuring there are prominent displays of ‘alcopops’ and increasing marketing around major sporting occasions all contribute to the booze culture which in turn has a wider impact on our communities.
Those who openly flout the law, who have a bottle opener tied to their till and serve anyone who comes through the door deserve to be prosecuted but if we want responsible off-licences who follow the law, it’s essential the police play their part and support retailers.
Download the report, it has some important things to say on a topic which affects us all and makes a number of imaginative recommendations on how to tackle misuse.