Speaking at the Westminster Social Policy Forum on alcohol policy in London on March 25th, Rosanna O’Connor, director of alcohol and drugs at Public Health England, said consumption of alcohol in England had risen significantly since the 1950s continuing a spiralling “upward trend”.
Responding to questioning by an attending delegate that alcohol consumption had actually decreased (HRMC figures released in February confirmed that alcohol consumption had fallen by 16% since 2004). She said: “There has been a very significant upward trend over the last 50 years. There are times over the last 50 years were there have been small drops and those have often been associated with economic downturn.
“One would hope that we are on the brink of a significant downturn. I don’t seek to undermine that but I think we cannot put to one side the unbelievable harms that the increased levels of consumption are having across society, particularly upon people suffering inequalities across a broad range of health issues.”
O’Connor told delegates attending the key note seminar that 10% of the population drink 45% of all alcohol consumed – and that it was those individuals who needed to be supported.
O’Connor said she believed the answer to tackling excessive consumption lies in taking a multi-agency approach incorporating partnerships at local and national levels to drive change, but that there is no doubt that price and availability affects consumption and over the past 50 years alcohol has become more affordable and available. O’Connor believes that health organisations need to focus on creating environments that support lower risk drinking and on lowering the consumption of at risk drinkers.
Government estimates currently place the total cost of alcohol to society is estimated at £21 billion per year; crime £11bn, the NHS £3.5bn and the cost of productivity £7bn.