The government’s recent announcement that it will impose minimum prices for beer, wine and spirits is just a small step towards reducing our culture of binge drinking. It probably won’t, of itself, make a huge difference to people’s habits but at least it is some acknowledgement that low prices encourage irresponsible consumption.
Yet none of this is new. The problems today are much as they were in Victorian times, yet we pride ourselves on our progress in tackling social ills.
Lady Henry Somerset argued in the 1890s that people could not be blamed for turning to alcohol to escape the misery of their daily lives when drink was cheaper than nourishing food. This is still true today.
We need to tackle the reasons why people turn to drink. There are almost as many reasons as there are drinkers. Many people have their own demons to fight. To Lady Henry, who was very religious, this meant drinkers turning to God for redemption. The soul needed healing as much as the body. This now sounds very old-fashioned, especially if you are not religiously inclined.
But today’s culture, especially amongst some of the young, is one in which instant gratification is more important than long-term consequences; a devil-may-care attitude prevails. Is it boredom? Is it a feeling of being powerless against the huge machinery of state? Is it simply selfishness?
Until we can get people to understand that all their actions have consequences and to take responsibility for their behaviour, we will not solve today’s alcohol-related social problems. They may not choose to turn to God for help, but surely there is some way they can be helped towards moderation.
At least the government is trying. It’s a small step, but it is at least in the right direction.