Ten years after relaxing its licensing laws to cries of ‘alcoholic anarchy’ the UK has found the move may have been the best thing it could have done.

Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has released a report on the effects of the legislation brought in by the Labour Government in 2005.

Despite panicked claims at its introduction that the Licensing Act, allowing more flexibility in licensed venue opening times, would lead to higher rates of consumption, binge-drinking, violent crime and hospitalisations, the IEA has found all of these have in fact declined.

Since the Act’s commencement, alcohol consumption has fallen 17 per cent – the biggest drop since the 1930s – and binge drinking has declined across all age groups, but significantly the biggest drop occurring amongst 16-24s.

Violent crime declined in the Act’s first year, and the IEA reports it has declined in most years since. While it notes an increase in late-night incidents, between 3am and 6am, figures show this has been more than offset by larger declines at traditional closing times.

IEA director of lifestyle economics Christopher Snowdon, who wrote the report, said the decision to relax opening hours reflects greater understanding of the population’s needs.

“The hysteria about so-called 24-hour drinking ranks as one of the great moral panics of our time, but the evidence is now clear,” Snowdon said in an article in the UK Mirror.

“The doom-mongers were wrong. Far from bringing about the catastrophic repercussions that were forecast when it was introduced, the Licensing Act has coincided with a fall in binge-drinking and made little difference to the rate of crime and alcohol-related health problems.

“The biggest consequence of relaxing licensing laws has been that the public are now better able to enjoy a drink at the time and location of their choice.”

The report contradicts the ‘availability theory’ of alcohol that suggests longer opening hours lead to increased drinking, drunkenness and alcohol-related harm by demonstrating that longer opening hours do not necessarily create greater demand.

The IEA came to the conclusion that by relaxing the licensing laws, “the government allowed consumers to pursue their preferences more effectively”.

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