Monday, July 9, 2012

Shifting the Culture

The Socialist Health Association Scotland has published its response to ‘Shifting the Culture’ a Member’s Bill consultation on measures to help change culture in relation to alcohol in Scotland.

SHA Scotland welcomes this consultation by Dr Richard Simpson MSP and Graeme Pearson MSP. While SHA Scotland broadly supported minimum alcohol pricing, we also recognise that this is only one measure of many that needs to be taken to tackle the scourge of alcohol on Scotland’s health and wellbeing.

The consultation gives a clear statement of the policy context for the Bill and in particular the ongoing health and other challenges alcohol abuse causes in Scotland, although we believe a greater emphasis (and understanding) on the socioeconomic context and impacts of alcohol is necessary. 

We believe that this context should have a greater focus on the deep seated health inequalities in Scotland. The impact of heavy drinking is greater in our poorer communities (e.g. alcohol-related facial injuries are up to seven times greater than in our most prosperous areas). This is also reflected in teenage drinking and alcohol-related cancer rates. Moreover, the true risks associated with alcohol consumption are when in combination with other risk factors (e.g. smoking, poor diet, obesity, and lack of physical exercise), and these “multiple risks” are more than three times greater among those from poorer circumstances. So focusing on alcohol in isolation of other risks and out with the context of socioeconomic circumstances may not be the best approach. In many ways alcohol is the fuel that fires health inequalities. We are not convinced that the issue of health inequalities has been fully considered throughout the document.

The paper states that the objective of the legislation is to shift the culture of drinking in Scotland. However, the measures are almost entirely about control and inhibition. While we agree this is needed, we question if this will be fully effective in changing the culture. A greater focus on the inequality that is at the root of the problem would be a better approach.

We believe that to truly tackle Scotland’s alcohol culture and its impact on societal and health / wellbeing would be through addressing the causes of the causes – i.e. by tackling the underlying social and economic inequalities in society.

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