November 17, 2017 : Craig Wilson

Alcohol Pricing – No Silver Bullet

Policy makers must provide support to the sector to underpin tough legislation on alcohol

“This is not a silver bullet.” That’s likely the line we’ll hear most from MSPs and health professionals in the coming months, as minimum unit pricing for alcohol is introduced in Scotland.

Of course, they’re right. There is no quick fix to Scotland’s problem with alcohol and, while the victory in the Supreme Court is to be welcomed, we should immediately temper expectations about what pricing changes will achieve and continue to look at what else needs to be done.

Arguably, it should be the role of Scotland’s third sector organisations to not only welcome the admission that this isn’t a silver bullet, but to press these decision makers on what more they intend to do and how they will support our sector to tackle this problem at the sharp end.

Everyone knows that Scotland is a hard-drinking nation. Embarrassingly, we wear it as a badge of national pride. After all, it’s part of our culture. It’s the fun bit of the Scottish stereotype. It’s our favourite fictional characters. It’s the Tartan Army on tour. It’s a good weekend.

Of course, alcohol is one of Scotland’s biggest killers. It’s also one of the main causes of crime, violence, ill-health and suicide. None of this is news – the NHS and Scottish Government routinely flood the media with stats and studies on what this all means in terms of A&E admissions, impact on the economy, life expectancy, poverty, deaths and prison sentences. We’re more aware than ever of how bad the situation is.

To their credit, every Scottish Government has tried to do something about it. They’ve all thrown time, resource and effort at attempting to change behaviours and turn the tide in the battle against alcohol. Action has been taken to better educate people of all ages. Strategies have been devised. Laws have been introduced to curb the marketing of alcohol. When and where alcohol can be served is subject to regulation. And now the pricing of alcohol will be enforced.

For me, there does seem to be one massive piece of the jigsaw missing. What about the people who actually struggle with alcohol? The focus is never personal and, instead, looks at this problem as a massive, monolithic, overbearing public health crisis. The temptation to do this is obvious; but a relentless focus on the macroscale, on statistics, the economy and the NHS, means a lack of focus on those who need help and the small organisations who offer that help.

This week in TFN, we read of the impact of cuts to Alcohol and Drug Partnerships on third sector groups, projects and services providing help, support and guidance at a local level. For many people battling alcohol addiction, these services are a lifeline and, ultimately, life changing. Much more has to be done to support these organisations and the individuals who have fallen in to the trap of alcohol dependence and abuse.

With the government and NHS fighting the alcohol problem on so many different fronts, it makes no sense to neglect the services making a difference to the individuals behind the statistics. At this stage, we need to remind those calling the shots that policy is indeed no silver bullet and that funding must continue to flow to those third sector organisations helping people recover from alcohol addiction and preventing people from spiralling in to addiction. A failure to provide support at this time undermines so many of the arguments in favour of tough, headline-grabbing policy.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Craig Wilson