The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of a public health approach in safeguarding population health. Increased alcohol availability during the pandemic due to online marketing and delivery and takeaway options have led to an increase in alcohol use in the United Kingdom (UK) during the pandemic. This has exacerbated the existing alcohol problem in UK. The negative consequences are being felt in England where alcoholic liver deaths increased by 20.8% in 2020 compared to 2019. Furthermore, England and Wales reported a 20 year record high in alcohol-specific deaths in 2020.
The Local Government Association (LGA), a body representing Councils in the United Kingdom are calling for public health issues to be a “legal requirement” in whether to grant new operating licences to bars, restaurants, clubs and takeaways.
This would allow councils to assess a license based on if it would “exacerbate an existing public health issue”, including alcohol-related admissions to hospitals, or infectious diseases.
Research indicates that alcohol outlet density and opening hours are related to violence and crime.
- One study found that hospitalization rates for alcoholic intoxication fell by an estimated 25–40% as the result of improving alcohol availability policy solutions.
- Another study found that off-sale outlet density particularely within one-quarter mile of the home, increased the risk of hospital admission for alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
Therefore, science indicates that taking public health into consideration when granting alcohol licenses can safeguard people specifically the vulnerable from alcohol harm. Currently councils in UK are discouraged from using the Licensing Act to consider public health issues.
Councils do not want powers to refuse every application. But being able to consider the public health impact of new licensed premises would allow them to take a more balanced view in line with their other priorities such as creating vibrant and safe town centres and protecting people from harm,” said Nesil Caliskan, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, as per Independent.
Nesil Caliskan, chair, LGA, Safer and Stronger Communities Board
Currently, Councils can consider four issues when deciding whether to grant licenses:
- The prevention of crime and disorder
- Public safety
- Prevention of public nuisance
- Protection of children from harm
The LGA is proposing to update the Licensing Act of 2003 with a public health objective and allow for action “where premises fail to protect the health of their communities”. They also call for greater access to NHS data, including hospital admissions and ambulance call-out details to assist decision making.
So far, the Federation of Small Businesses has opposed the call by the LGA citing losses due to the pandemic. They have asked for a period of recovery for small businesses.
A government spokesperson has said that they are considering the LGA’s proposal.