Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I told you so

I try to avoid saying "I told you so" because we're all capable of so much with hindsight, but sometimes there is nothing else to say. Like today, when I read the article on alcohol abuse in The Times. It suggests that government plans to curb drinks promotions that encourage binge drinking are an admission of failure. A monumental failure, on the part of 24-hour drinking reforms and Hazel Blears, to foster a 'continental café-bar culture'. What 24-hour drinking seems to have catalysed instead is unprecedented drink related violence and crime, soaring NHS costs to the public purse, and further societal and family breakdown.

To change existing behaviours (assuming that is what the move towards a 'continental café-bar culture' was about) and to encourage restraint, self respect and personal accountability, you have to understand what drives the current set of behaviours. What do young people aspire towards today? Who are their role models? What makes them proud to be British? Who do they look up to amongst their peer group and elders in the community? How do they see the relationship between 'owning stuff' and hard graft? What do they do to support the vulnerable and those less fortunate than themselves? It's the health of these values (and others) that determines the success or otherwise of initiatives aimed to bring about behavioural change.

I have neither quantitative nor qualitative answers to these questions. But go and ask a few kids on street corners (if you dare) and you'll very quickly get a feel for where they choose to draw their horizons. Usually at the foot of the bed. Having understood the despair, it gets easier to understand why we have such high rates of bullying and violent crime; STDs and unwanted pregnancy; mental illness; alcohol abuse and drug misuse. Don't think that these are the problems of the lower socio-economic groups. They are rife throughout our society.

Now look at the same set of values in continental Europe, where access to alcohol is, and has always been, more relaxed. Almost without exception they are in better health, as evidenced through the way families are more strongly bonded; higher levels of national pride in learning, culture, language and industry; the availability of apprenticeships and in some cases national service (military or otherwise); lower levels of violent crime, STDs and unwanted pregnancies, mental illness, drug and alcohol misuse etc.

So, it would appear that giving a despairing society, gripped by widespread existential crisis, the opportunity to drink 24/7 was not the smartest way to change behaviour and broaden horizons. Well I could have told you that. Self control and restraint are not top of the agenda when societal values that encourage them are at an all time low. But our politicians aren't stupid are they? So maybe the drinks industry, a powerful lobby, provided the real impetus behind the push towards a "continental café-bar culture"? Either explanation is deplorable - we're stupid or we were pushed into it for financial gain. Take your pick.

1 comment:

Karen Redman said...

I am aghast that "we", Joe Public, saw it coming but the powers that be didn't. And although it seems that we don't have the answers, it's good to know that we're asking why ... particularly when the "why" is posed as eloquently as it is in your very readable blog!