Friday, 25 May 2012

Our mythical margarita culture

I'm grateful to the ever-brilliant Christopher Snowdon for highlighting this article from The Telegraph:

The Shadow Public Health Minister, says new alcohol figures lift the lid on some of the problems around the ‘cocktail and business card culture’ She said:

It is good that more women are out in the workforce and are enjoying social life in pubs and bars. But these disturbingly high figures reveal women’s drinking patterns have changed in a generation, reflecting a silent, middle class epidemic. The problem is not just young “ladettes”.

These figures reflect the rise of the British ‘Margarita culture’, and some of the surrounding problems.

And the easy availability and low price of supermarket booze have led to more housewives to drink to excess at home.

Sounds scary. What are these "new alcohol figures"?
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that in 2010 women in professional and managerial positions consumed an average of 9.2 units a week compared with 6.2 units a week for women in routine and manual jobs.
They say '11.2' earlier in the article, but 9.2 units a week is the correct figure from the ONS report.
Either way, that's well under the government's recommended limit of 14 units a week (which was "'plucked out of the air' by a committee that met in 1987"). It's about 100ml of 13% wine a day - less than a small glass.

And the source for the "new" alcohol figures is of course the "General Lifestyle Survey, 2010", published on the 8th of March (and previously blogged here). Not so new, then, and not news either - here's what the ONS's General Household Survey 2002 Edition had to say:

Weekly alcohol consumption and household socio-economic classification

The relationship between weekly alcohol consumption and socio-economic classification was similar to that shown earlier in relation to daily amounts. Average weekly consumption was highest among men and women in large employer/higher managerial households, at 19.9 and 9.4 units respectively.

Apart from the high consumption in that particular group, there was no clear socio-economic gradient in relation to alcohol consumption among men. Using the three-category classification, average consumption was 17.3 units a week among men in managerial and professional households, 17.9 units among men in intermediate households and 16.8 units among those in routine or manual households.

The pattern among women was slightly clearer. Average weekly consumption was highest, at 8.3 units, in the managerial and professional group, and lowest (at 6.5 units) among those in routine and manual worker households.

So for at least a decade, British women have been drinking hardly anything, and the "managerial and professional group" has been drinking slightly more than the "routine and manual" workers.

What sort of politician could claim that "women’s drinking patterns have changed" to "disturbingly high" levels associated with a "Margarita culture" and a "middle class epidemic"? Our favourite blubbery bigot, Diane Abbott.
What's her proposed solution?
This government needs to bring in a radical new, long-term alcohol strategy including – but not limited to – a minimum price for alcohol.
I'll hand over to Christopher Snowdon at this point:

How depressing it is to be reminded that no matter how draconian the Conservative-led coalition is on this issue, there is always the spectre of a Labour-run Department of Health, led by this grossly overweight, self-confessed hypocrite, to make things still worse


We seem to have reached the point at which any statistic related to alcohol can be used to call for "radical new" legislation even when, as routinely occurs, the statistic shows that Britons are drinking much less than the media narrative requires.


For the anti-drink lobby, as for useless politicians like Diane Abbott, there can be no good news. For them, the problem is not with how much we are drinking—alcohol consumption has been falling sharply for a decade—but that we drink at all. These figures show us nothing except that women, on average, are drinking a frankly medicinal amount of alcohol, and yet the decision has been made that the government must clamp down on drinking, just as it clamped down on smoking. The fact that the statistics do not support the mythology of Booze Britain is not seen as an inconvenience. The data are either ignored (as the drop in consumption has been ignored), or incorporated into the narrative of panic in a tenuous way (as here).

Regardless of the evidence, the public health lobby made its mind up several years ago that drinking was next in the firing line. There is nothing we can do to stop it.

Medical Editor Rebecca Smith doesn't say how many units she'd consumed when she wrote this title:

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