England

Drinking problems 'near most homes', church survey suggests

Jean and John Huskinson, Wayne Pierce and Nigel Adams from the Beeston Street Angels
Image caption The Street Angels have found few people drunk on the streets in Nottingham

More than 60% of people believe excessive drinking is causing problems near their homes, a poll by three of Britain's leading churches suggests.

The Methodist, Baptist and United Reform Churches commissioned a Yougov poll which asked 2,132 people in the UK whether alcohol was causing trouble in their neighbourhoods.

Overall, 61% of those polled said there were alcohol-related problems within walking distance of their homes or at local shops, with 6% saying it was a major problem.

The churches have now added their voices to those of leading health professionals who want the UK government to put a minimum price on units of alcohol.

Ruth Pickles, the vice president of the Methodist Conference, said the churches wanted to minimise the harm alcohol caused in British society.

"The churches have long had an interest in the effect alcohol misuse has had on society, and most particularly on the most vulnerable members," she said.

"We want a minimum unit price - not a minimum cost price which is what the government has agreed.

"We're asking for a realistic price, as are many other organisations that are concerned with either health or the other ill effects of problem drinking."

'Banging doors'

In one area of Hastings in East Sussex, residents told the BBC a group of 15 youngsters were causing trouble.

"They usually sit up there doing their courting or drinking or smoking or whatever they do - but we leave them alone," one man said.

"Then they started vandalising the place, started banging on our doors. We went down to the police station - the police came, they picked up the four bigger boys and went to their school, they sorted out the youngsters."

Image caption A conference will look at alcohol pricing in February

Sgt Dave Townsend, of Hastings Police, said the use of social media meant young people could avoid police easily and officers had spent the year chasing them around the town.

"We had a real problem at this supermarket, where they will just stick around the entrance with maybe £10 in their pockets and they will wait for a single adult to come along and they'll give them the £10 and say to them 'will you get me some cider or some lager?'.

"Invariably, that same person will come back, give them a few cans of lager or cider and keep the change."

In the quiet Nottingham suburb of Beeston, a Christian organisation called The Street Angels patrols the streets at weekends, engaging with groups of teenagers who meet in parks and shopping centres.

Nigel Adams, who co-ordinates the group, was surprised by the high number of people polled who said excessive drinking was a problem, as those on the patrol had found fewer alcohol-related problems then they expected to.

"In the nine months we've been doing it we've seen very few people that are really intoxicated and causing trouble as a result," he said.

"Our own perception has been changed really by doing this."

Meanwhile, some local councils and health authorities are keen to see a minimum unit price and say it will reduce the amount the NHS spends on alcohol-related problems by billions of pounds.

'Misguided' plan

The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) is trying to draft local laws to introduce a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol in shops.

Alan Higgins, director for public health for the association, said alcohol had stayed relatively cheap in relation to other goods.

"Fixing a minimum price per unit of alcohol would be an effective means of pricing alcohol to such an extent where it would deter young people particularly from drinking excessively, but also the people who are the hardest drinkers," he said.

"It would have an effect there which would limit alcohol consumption but would have a very limited effect on the moderate drinker."

The association is hosting a conference on the issue in February and has asked other local authorities and churches to attend.

However, Gavin Partington from the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, said there was "no evidence" to support the idea that a minimum price unit would be effective.

'Punishes the poor'

"There is on the other hand ample evidence to suggest that it will actually prove regressive," he said.

"It punishes the poor... it's those who have least money to spend who will see the greatest impact on their weekly purchasing... and it does nothing to tackle the problem. I just think it's misguided."

The Home Office said it was already taking action over the price of alcohol.

"This government is committed to reducing the social harms associated with excessive alcohol consumption by ending the sale of the cheapest alcohol," a spokesperson said.

"We will soon introduce new laws to ban the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT.

"Meanwhile, we are continuing to consider appropriate ways of strengthening the ban in order that alcohol-related health and crime harms can be further reduced."

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