The Observer reports on some “research” from Alcohol Concern claiming to demonstrate that there’s a direct link between the number of off-licences in an area and the amount of underage drinking. This may well be true, but I’d like to see the underlying figures before reaching any conclusions. It’s hard to see which is cause and which effect – the number of off-licences will inevitably to a large extent reflect the demand for alcohol in a particular area, not create it out of thin air, and areas where adult drinking is more prevalent are likely to also have more underage drinking. Can we also be certain that the results weren’t skewed by the inclusion of areas with a high Muslim population who are not, by and large, going to be buying or drinking much booze?
Predictably, they go on to use these findings to call for a reduction in the absolute number of off-licences. Now even I wouldn’t exactly die in a ditch to defend the right of every two-bit corner shop to sell alcohol. But to stop it would tend to damage independent retailers and play into the hands of Tesco, and could encourage corruption if councillors were responsible for allocating a fixed number of licences.
This is a typical neo-Prohibitionist tactic, to use something apparently reasonable, especially one involving the welfare of children, to ratchet their agenda along another notch or two. One of their key aims is a quantitative control on licences, and this will help achieve that. Restricting the “availability” of alcohol, along with “affordability” and advertising, is one of the Three Prongs of Neo-Prohibitionism.
It is also pointed out in the comments that much of the alcohol consumed by under-18s is bought for them by older family members, so clamping down on underage sales will have no effect. And, of course, letting your 15-year-old son or daughter have a can of Carling or a glass of Lambrini isn’t illegal. Yet...