New Labour's decision to relax drinking laws in the UK has been an "unmitigated success", according to a right-leaning think-tank. The Institute of Economic Affairs (IAE) said the Licensing Act, which came into force on midnight 24 November 2005, has benefited consumers and did not result in the "apocalyptic" results some warned about at the time.
"Alcohol-related crime is down, violence is down and rates of binge-drinking are down. The 11 o'clock rush is largely a thing of the past," said Christopher Snowdon, the director of lifestyle economics at the IEA.
"Those who want to drink until midnight, and often later, are now able to find at least one pub or bar in which to do so, with the added bonus that they are less likely to be assaulted, harassed or run over when they leave. We are drinking less, drinking slower and drinking locally. The prophets of doom were wrong. Liberalisation worked."
But the decision to let licensed premises open for up to 24-hours faced serious opposition when Tony Blair's government first proposed it. The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens warned at the time that the relaxation would soak up police resources as officers would be forced to deal with drink-related crimes, while the Royal College of Physicians cautioned that the cutting of red tape around drinking laws would cost the NHS millions of pounds.
Meanwhile, a survey of emergency service workers in 2015 found that a majority of the staff have faced alcohol fuelled abuse. The Institute of Alcohol Studies (IoAS) poll, of more than 4,000 people from each service between June and August, found that 76% of police and 50% of ambulance staff had been injured on the job as a result of drunken violence.
"Many of these incidents are preventable, and alcohol therefore creates unnecessary problems for front line staff, increasing their workload and preventing them from dealing with other important issues. Police officers we spoke to would far rather be dealing with burglaries than Friday night drunks," said Katherine Brown, the director of the IoAS.
"We call on the government to better support our emergency services and implement policies to ease this burden, such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Local Authorities could also do more by using their licensing powers more proactively, such as trying to bring forward extremely late closing times where needed."