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The latest scapegoat for boozing Brits

High house prices have been blamed for many things – non-entry into the euro, declining birth rates, slowing social mobility – but apparently it’s also why young people are knocking back the Barcardi Breezers.

A BBC programme called Britain’s Streets of Booze – a title guaranteed to ensure Daily Mail readers will tune in to top up their apoplectic fury at the youth of today – says the debate about binge drinking has focussed on licensing hours and discounts but asks if house prices could be to blame.

The problem of binge drinking is not to be underestimated. It is thought that excessive alcohol intake costs the UK 20bn per year, hitting health, productivity (up to 17 million working days are lost annually through alcohol abuse) and violent crime rates.

But the government is on the wrong track in trying to tackle this with longer opening times, more CCTV cameras and culling happy hours, according to Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School. He says such measures fail to address the root of the problem. The BBC programme shows Cooper spending an evening with drinkers in Manchester. Most revellers live with their parents or in rented accommodation.

“Many 20 and 30-somethings can’t afford to buy a house so they’re not doing what previous generations did which was start to save for their own homes at 25,” says Cooper. “Now there’s no point doing that so they have disposable money which they spend on instant gratification.”

Home owners are not as likely to spend as much on booze, says Cooper, because they have mortgages and other expenses. They are more inclined to socialise and drink at home.

But maybe it’s not so much that there’s no point in saving, rather that there is no longer the pressure for people to settle down in their 20s. Getting married and having children, usually a trigger for home ownership, is now a 30s trend.

Panic about drink is nothing new. Shakespeare’s Cassio bemoans his “poor and unhappy brains for drinking”. In the 18th century, Hogarth famously depicted Gin Lane, where “drunkenness of the common people was universal”. During World War I, Lloyd George told the country: “We are fighting three foes – Germany, Austria and drink – and drink is most deadly of all.” This was linked to concern over the scandalous behaviour of women drinkers, many of whom had pay packets for the first time from work in government factories, leading the government to impose the restrictions on pub opening times now being abolished.

For the record, binge drinking is defined as drinking more than double the recommended daily limits – eight units for men – equivalent to four pints of beer – and six units for women.rachelblackmoreis external affairsmanager at the Building Societies Association


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