Licensing Act: ‘hysteria’ over 24-hour drinking proven unfounded, report finds

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Binge concern: despite fears, alcohol consumption has fallen by 17% in the past decade
Binge concern: despite fears, alcohol consumption has fallen by 17% in the past decade

Related tags Licensing act Drinking culture

The fear that the Licensing Act would increase social disorder has been proven unfounded, with binge-drinking, public order offences and violent crime all falling in the past decade, a report by a right-leaning think-tank has found.

According to the Institute of Economic Affairs report, Drinking Fast and Slow: Ten years of the Licensing Act​, rates of binge-drinking have declined in all age groups since 2005, with the biggest fall occurring in the 16-24 age group.

Despite the theory that the Licensing Act would lead to a ‘24-hour drinking culture’, the report found that any greater availability of alcohol has not coincided with a surge in demand, with consumption having fallen by 17% in the past decade – the largest reduction in UK drinking rates since the 1930s.

Mirroring this, the report said there has been no rise in alcohol-related Accident and Emergency admissions or alcohol-related deaths in the past 10 years. It added that there was little evidence to suggest that the Licensing Act brought about a rise in the number of alcohol-related admissions to Accident and Emergency departments.

Numerous studies have shown that the Licensing Act had a positive or neutral effect on hospital admissions, the report claimed.

Crime rates

The report also highlighted falling crime figures since 2004/05, with the rate of violent crime down by 40%, public order offences down 9%, and incidents of criminal damage down 48%.

It said incidents of crimes generally aggravated by alcohol have fallen steeply since 2005 and the number of domestic violence incidents has also declined (by 28%).

Although some evidence suggests that violent crime has been dispersed later into the night, the report concluded that this accounts for just a small percentage of total crime and the overall decline has been considerably greater.

Christopher Snowdon, director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Facilitating longer opening hours may have been the best thing the Labour Party ever did. The hysteria about so-called 24-hour drinking ranks as one of the great moral panics of our time, but the evidence is now clear – the doom-mongers were wrong.

“Far from bringing about the catastrophic repercussions that were forecast when it was introduced, the Licensing Act has coincided with a fall in binge-drinking and made little difference to the rate of crime and alcohol-related health problems.

Snowdon: added: “The biggest consequence of relaxing licensing laws has been that the public are now better able to enjoy a drink at the time and location of their choice.“

Industry role

Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) praised the pub industry’s role in changing drinking habits following the publication of the report.

However, chief executive Kate Nicholls warned that the adoption of early-morning restriction orders (EMROs) by local authorities may undo the good work.

Nicholls said: “The publication of this report confirms what the ALMR has been saying for a while – crime is falling, alcohol abuse is falling and pubs and bars are contributing to a fundamental change in the way alcohol is consumed in the UK.”

She added: “Worryingly, we have seen a few local authorities looking at the option of introducing EMROs. There is a possibility that imposing earlier closing hours on premises could undo much of the good work of the past 10 years.”

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