Problem drinking affects us all in different ways. So too, the theme of this year’s Alcohol Awareness Week, Change, will mean something different to you depending on how alcohol impacts on your life.
In moderation, alcohol can be part of a fun night out, or a good meal. A thriving night time economy is something to be valued and supported, as is the choice to have a drink at home. A commitment to Change means addressing drinking that is harmful, protecting those who are vulnerable, and supporting those who struggle with alcohol.
Police officers and other emergency workers are acutely aware of why Change is needed, as they see the problems caused by problem drinking week in week out. Alcohol has been found to be a factor in up to 80 per cent of arrests during the weekend, and in up to 70 per cent of people visiting A&E departments during peak hours. The pressure this demand puts on a service already under strain is considerable. Add to this the appalling, but sadly not surprising, fact that over three-quarters (76%) of police officers report having received an injury when dealing with members of the public who have had too much to drink. Alcohol is never an excuse for violence, no matter who the victim is, but the need for Change demands that we both understand and address its continued association with the most serious and damaging acts of violence and aggression.
Police and Crime Commissioners, in their local Police and Crime Plans, set out the work they are doing with partners to deliver Change, including around alcohol misuse. This can involve investing in safer pubs and club schemes, tackling anti-social street drinking, and supporting rehabilitation and recovery across the criminal justice system for people with multiple, complex needs including harmful drinking.
And nationally, we are making the case for Change in the Government’s Alcohol Strategy. There have been many submissions to Ministers calling for action, from expert organisations such as The Institute of Alcohol Studies, the APPG on Alcohol Harm and the Cross Party Parliamentary Group on Drugs, Alcohol and Justice. Their contributions emphasise the need for evidence-based policy, and need to be taken into account by Ministers.
I would add that Government needs to learn from successful local initiatives, identifying ‘what works’ to build a safe night-time economy. We need to create far more safe spaces; schemes which offer rest and recovery for people who have had too much to drink, and pastoral care for those at risk of abuse and exploitation. And, fundamental to the success of any strategy on alcohol misuse, we are making the case that a well-resourced alcohol treatment sector offering specialist support is essential if we are to help people deal with problem drinking.
My colleagues and I will continue to work with our partners inside and outside Government to be part of the Change that is needed on harmful drinking. We owe it to the police we support, and the public we serve.
PCC Hardyal Dhindsa is the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners' Lead on Alcohol and Substance Misuse, and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire