Happy birthday to Challenge 25. The age-verification scheme, operated by the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group, is eight this year. And to coincide with that anniversary, a report has been published analysing the last eight years and crunching some numbers. Now we’re all familiar with this scheme that was introduced as a means of combatting a rise-or perceived rise-in underage alcohol consumption. The idea is that anyone who appears under 25 will be asked to produce proof of age. The scheme has hit the headlines several times, usually when an overzealous employee has demanded proof from an OAP or suchlike. However, the report is, perhaps unsurprisingly, celebratory about its success but does highlight one or two concerns for the future.
A growing problem is apparently the number of shop staff verbally and sometimes physically abused by people refused an alcohol purchase. The report recommends that the government introduces an aggregated offence of “assaulting shop workers” to deal with this. Whilst such behaviour is of course completely unacceptable; you would imagine that better enforcement of current legislation would be a more logical first step. Also on the rise is so-called “proxy purchasing” where friends or even parents buy alcohol for the underage. The report acknowledges that this is a difficult problem to solve and outlines a number of strategies, including better education, to help tackle it.
The raw data makes for interesting, if not palatable, reading for the anti-alcohol lobby. In the eight years of the scheme, the number of young people drinking in the past week has dropped 18%. Even more dramatic is the fall in total alcohol consumption of 16-24 year olds which has plummeted 24%. Not surprising to those of us who actually concern themselves with facts and not hyperbole but how would our old friend Alcohol Concern react? Organise street parties in unrestrained jubilation? Whilst acknowledging that “it was encouraging to see the number of young people drinking falling”, they warned that “worrying trends still remain and need tackling”. Oh well, if there is a cloud to be found in a silver lining, then AC will find it.