Scotland, the ‘Sick Man of Europe’

A new study released by the Scottish Government, the Scottish Health Survey, has highlighted the divide in levels of public health between the North and South United Kingdom.

Essentially, Scots drink and smoke more than their southern cousins, have a poorer diet, higher levels of obesity and are more likely to die as a result of alcohol-related sickness.The findings have led to opposition party members calling for Scotland to lose it’s ‘Sick Man of Europe’ image. The release of this report coincides with the release of recent figures from the North West Public Health Observatory, that out of the 16,000 recorded deaths attributed directly to alcohol-related harm last year, two-thirds (10,666) were in the North.

A further report, the Local Alcohol Profiles in England, recorded an 8% annual increase from last year in hospitalisation directly linked to alcohol misuse, such as alcoholic cirrhosis. Over the last five years, admissions have risen 65%. The Director of the Observatory, Professor Mark Bellis has come out as supporting the minimum pricing policies being spread country-wide, stating: “It is time we realised that we are not a population of responsible drinkers with just a handful of irresponsible individuals ruining it for others.”

We need to see the real cost of alcohol reflected in the price it is sold at…” Various plans have been put forward by the Scottish government to tackle the drinking culture north of the border, including the introduction of a minimum pricing structure for cost per alcoholic unit. These plans have been routinely lambasted by the opposition parties as well as anybody else that happens to be paying attention. Merely making the alcohol more expensive will encourage people to spend more money on alcohol, not spend the same and drink less. The plan is in effect a China Hammer, appearing to be robust and able to tackle the problem but is in fact worryingly delicate.

The Alcohol Commission, a Labour creation, has pressured the Scottish government to lobby ‘the London Parties’ (thank you Mr Salmond) to establish a law to prevent ‘floor price’ sales, a move that could stop supermarkets using booze bargains as ‘loss leaders’, encouraging hapless customers into the store with the hope that the rest of their weekly shopping will follow a trip to the drink counter. ‘Floor price’ is only the cost of production plus the duty and VAT, way below the proposed 50 pence per unit that may come into force.

Together with plans afoot to ban sport sponsorship by alcoholic beverages and a media-wide clean sweep of alcohol advertising, the scheme looks good on paper. The Commission has warned that the minimum price introduction could lead to a new form of black market however, particularly if the minimum is only introduced in Scotland. If the current situation continues who knows where Scotland will end up, from the ‘sick man’ to ‘the young and the dead’? The North / South Divide. BBC 01-09-2010.

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