These findings are contained in a new report, Drinking, Fast and slow, 10 years of the Licensing Act, from the Institute of Economic Affairs’ Christopher Snowden.
It was widely predicted that relaxing the UK’s licensing laws would lead to higher rates of alcohol consumption, more binge-drinking, more violent crime and more alcohol-related attendances to A&E departments.
“In the event, none of this occurred,” states the report which points out that between 2005 and 2013 per capita alcohol consumption actually declined by 17 per cent.
Consumption in licensed premises fell even more sharply, by 26%, driven by factors such as the recession, the alcohol duty escalator and – in pubs and clubs – the smoking ban, but the start of the decline preceded them all, states the report which points out, “Whatever the reasons, it is the opposite of what was predicted”.
Not only has alcohol consumption fallen substantially since 2005 but every measure of excessive drinking also shows a decline according to the report.
“The Licensing Act has coincided with a period in which young people, in particular, have become remarkably abstemious. According to the Office for National Statistics, the ‘proportion of young adults who drank frequently has fallen by more than two-thirds since 2005. Only 1 in 50 young adults drank alcohol frequently in 2013’. Rates of teetotalism are now as high amongst 16 to 24 year-olds as they are amongst pensioners (27%).”
But since 2005 binge-drinking has declined amongst all age groups with the biggest fall occurring in the 16 to 24 age group (from 29% to 18%) and amongst 25 to 44 year-olds (from 25% to 19%).
According to the Christopher Snowdon, “Violent crime declined in the first year of the new licensing regime and has fallen in most years since”.
Since 2004/5 the rate of violent crime has fallen by 40%, however the report points out that there has been a rise in violent crime between 3am and 6am, “but this has been offset by a larger decline at the old closing times (11pm to midnight and 2am to 3am)”.
Public order offences in general have fallen by 9%, homicide has fallen by 44%, domestic violence has fallen by 28% with the number of victims falling from 0.5% of the population to 0.3% while the number of incidents of criminal damage has fallen by 48%. The number of sex offences has risen, but this has been plausibly attributed to a larger proportion of offences being reported.
‘Lesser cirmes’ such as domestic burglary have fallen by 31% and vehicle-related theft by 56%.
A&E admissions down
A&E data suggests that there was either no change or a slight decline in alcohol-related admissions after the introduction of the Licensing Act.
“Alcohol-related admissions have continued to rise, albeit at a slower pace than before the Act was introduced, but there has been no rise in the rate of alcohol-related mortality,” states the report, “There was also a statistically significant decline in late-night traffic accidents following the enactment of the Act.”
The evidence, collected from England and Wales contradicts the ‘availability theory’ of alcohol and the author concludes, “There is little evidence that the Licensing Act led to the creation of a continental café culture as some proponents of liberalisation had hoped but the primary objectives of diversifying the night-time economy, allowing greater freedom of choice and improved public order have largely been met.
“By relaxing the licensing laws, the government allowed consumers to pursue their preferences more effectively. In practice, this resulted in relatively modest extensions in opening hours, not ‘24-hour drinking’. By allowing a greater degree of self-regulation, the Licensing Act benefited consumers without creating the disastrous consequences that were widely predicted.”