30 June 2014

'Sensible on Strength' scheme helps street drinkers into treatment

Street drinkers are now more likely to successfully engage with treatment for their alcohol addiction following the introduction of a voluntary scheme which is encouraging off-licences not to sell high-strength alcohol.

In the first few months of Brighton & Hove’s ‘Sensible on Strength’ campaign, 82% of the city’s highest profile street drinkers have switched to lower strength alcohol and are more able to engage with agencies.

According to the substance misuse and mental health charity Equinox there has been a marked improvement in the lives of the people they are supporting. Jesse Wilde, service manager at Equinox, Brighton, said: “It is now the exception rather than the rule for our outreach workers to see street drinkers with high strength cans, which is a complete reversal of the situation 12 months ago.

“Drinking weaker alcohol means the street drinkers we work with are more willing to engage with our support, are less likely to put themselves at risk and less likely to impact on their wider community.”

The ‘Sensible on Strength’ initiative is the result of licensing and trading standards officers from the council working with Sussex Police and businesses.

There are now 95 businesses signed up to the scheme, including clusters such as in the London Road area where all the off-licences have agreed not to sell high-strength alcohol and where there were also problems with street drinking.

It has meant that Jennifer (not her real name) has been able to maintain her hostel tenancy, the longest she has ever stayed in a Brighton hostel, reduce her alcohol intake and improve her overall health and wellbeing.

Jennifer has a long history of rough sleeping, street drinking and antisocial behavior. She has been evicted from several hostels, has regularly been admitted to hospital and is vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse when intoxicated.

She now has a mentor helping her in her recovery and has taken up singing lessons. Following a successful detox she is currently undergoing residential rehabilitation.

Because she was unable to source high-strength alcohol, Jennifer was better able to engage with services and reduce the amount she was drinking. According to her Equinox support worker, ‘Sensible on Strength’ played a crucial role in facilitating the dramatic progress Jennifer has made.

Councillor Stephanie Powell, chair of the city’s Licensing Committee which launched the scheme, said: “It is extremely rewarding to see the ‘Sensible on Strength’ initiative have such a positive effect.

“I’d like to thank local businesses for taking part in the scheme and helping to achieve these improvements. High-strength drinks are a breed apart from other beers and ciders and cause immense harm to vulnerable people.

“There is a wider effect, too; alcohol-related disorder increases fear of crime and that creates an unpleasant environment for everyone.”

Shop owners signing up to ‘Sensible on Strength’ agree not to sell beer, lager and cider above 6% alcohol by volume (abv) and put in place other good practice measures including a refusals system, CCTV and documented training. Participating premises can display a ‘Sensible on Strength’ sticker.

A single 500ml can of 9% super-strength lager contains four and a half units of alcohol, which exceeds the government's daily recommended safe alcohol limit of between two to three units for women and three to four units for men.

More information

Equinox provides a street outreach service for people with alcohol problems http://www.equinoxcare.org.uk/services/equinox-brighton-alcohol-outreach-service/