Alcohol consumption, rates of binge-drinking and alcohol-related crime have fallen in the 10 years since the introduction of 24-hour licensing, according to a new report.
The study, “Drinking, Fast and Slow: Ten Years of the Licensing Act”, from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) hailed the 2005 Licensing Act as a success as it had not led to the disastrous outcomes that critics predicted at the time.
Despite the greater availability of alcohol, consumption per head has fallen by 17% since the Act was introduced in England and Wales – the largest reduction in UK drinking rates since the 1930s.
Since 2005, the number of people aged 16 to 24 who are binge drinking has fallen from 29% to 18% and amount among 25- to 44-year-olds has fallen from 25% to 19%.
The rate of violent crime in England and Wales has fallen by 40% since 2004/05. Incidents of crimes generally aggravated by alcohol have fallen steeply and the number of domestic violence incidents has declined by 28%.
Although some evidence suggests that violent crime has been dispersed later into the night, this accounts for just a small percentage of total crime and the overall decline has been considerably greater.
The IEA found little evidence to suggest that the Licensing Act had brought about a rise in the number of alcohol-related admissions to Accident and Emergency departments. Numerous studies have shown that the Licensing Act had a positive or neutral effect.
The report’s author Christopher Snowdon, director of lifestyle economics at the IEA, said: “The hysteria about so-called 24-hour drinking ranks as one of the great moral panics of our time, but the evidence is now clear: the doom-mongers were wrong.
“Far from bringing about the catastrophic repercussions that were forecast when it was introduced, the Licensing Act has coincided with a fall in binge-drinking and made little difference to the rate of crime and alcohol-related health problems.
“The biggest consequence of relaxing licensing laws has been that the public are now better able to enjoy a drink at the time and location of their choice.“
The report was welcomed by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) for contradicting the theory that longer opening hours would lead to more drinking, more drunkenness and more alcohol-related harm.
ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The publication of this report confirms what the ALMR, and indeed the sector, has been saying for a while: that crime is falling, alcohol abuse is falling and pubs and bars are contributing to a fundamental change in the way alcohol is consumed in the UK.
“Additionally, the licensed hospitality universe has changed dramatically over the past 10 years with the number of pubs and nightclubs declining, being replaced by innovative food-driven options.
“The experiment in 24-hour drinking has not prompted a feared increase in dangerous drinking habits and violence. Instead we are seeing pubs and bars given the flexibility to trade to hours that suit them and provide safe environments for their customers.
“The late-night sector is making a vital contribution and the recent launch of our Late Night Manifesto underlines what an integral part of our economy this is.”
The report comes as local authorities around the country consider imposing Early Morning Restriction Orders (EMROs) which allow them to ban the sale of alcohol for a specified time period between midnigth and 6am in the whole or part of its area.
Kate added: “Worryingly, we have seen a few local authorities looking at the option of introducing Early Morning Restriction Orders, curtailing this thriving section of their local economies.
“There is a possibility that imposing earlier closing hours on premises could undo much of the good work of the past 10 years. Late-night venues can continue to flourish and contribute to positive changes in attitudes, but only if they are permitted to do so.”
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