The British government was one of the first to declare that the only way to deal with the debt crisis was with drastic cuts, ushering in a new age of austerity. As a result, Britain has also been quick to suffer the policy’s limitations—its failure to produce a level of economic activity that could haul the country out of recession. Instead, austerity has fomented a bleak national mood, with more than 2.5 million Britons unemployed and 7 million more “one small push from penury,” according to research published recently by The Guardian.
- the Institute of Alcohol Studies reports that, because of rising disposable incomes and falling prices, “alcohol is 44 percent more affordable than in 1988.”
- It has never been cheaper to get blotto, bladdered, and bombed, and more and more Britons are turning to this easy escape. Home Secretary Theresa May described how young people have got into the habit of downing large quantities of cheap booze before hitting the town for a weekend: they call it “pre-loading.” Residents of Prague, Budapest, and other European destinations reachable by low-cost airlines watch in horror and bafflement as gangs of Brits stumble and puke around their elegant city centers. Town squares up and down the U.K. are disfigured every weekend by scenes of Bacchanalian excess. Hospital ERs are inundated. Cirrhosis of the liver, a disease that only used to affect people over 50, threatens to become an epidemic among the young.
- To combat the scourge of binge drinking, the government is enacting a law to impose a minimum price on units of alcohol. The price of a two-liter bottle of strong cider will shoot up from $2.97 to $5.28; that of a 700 milliliter bottle of vodka from $13.71 to $16.54. The move has been carefully targeted: while it will inflate the retail price of drinks sold in supermarkets, it is likely to have no effect on prices in most pubs, which already add a large margin of profit. By effectively outlawing cheap drink, the government hopes to put an end to what has become a matter of national shame
- a survey of the impact of the Games on Newham, site of the Olympics, by Anne Power of the London School of Economics reports that, during the years of preparation for the Games, household income rose more slowly and unemployment more steeply than elsewhere in the capital. Meanwhile, drug crime soared by 500 percent. The number of violent crimes declined, but as the latest statistics indicate, Newham is hardly a peaceful place:
- “I have premises close to me that sell alcohol 24/7,” a reader wrote to a local paper earlier this year. “Our disgraceful drinking culture … leads to most crimes committed, even murder … [drinkers] stagger from one pub or club to another in the early hours, causing mayhem en route.”