Saturday, June 21, 2014

Domestic violence and access to alcohol: who is making the link?

After months of delays, dramas, and resignations by high-profile members, the Glenn inquiry into child abuse and domestic violence released its first report (The People’s Report) yesterday. Reading through the report, a number of issues stand out, but one that particularly resonates is the link between alcohol, child abuse and domestic violence.

In South Auckland almost everyone lives within 500 metres of a liquor outlet. There are parts of the South where it is difficult to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, but for most of us alcohol is only a short walk away. If you talk to local police they will tell you that: Mangere/Otahuhu  is one of the busiest police districts in the country; that much of their work is domestic violence callouts; and that alcohol is nearly always a factor. Similarly, data from Child Youth and Family show higher than average rates of child abuse in South Auckland. There are variations within the South, but the pattern is broadly consistent.

In other words, the suburbs with the greatest deprivation, the greatest concentration of pokie machines, and a seemingly endless turnover of liquor outlets have the highest rates of child abuse and domestic violence. Is anyone surprised? Probably not. But the more important question is what is to be done?

Research is clear that the key issue for social hazards such as gambling addiction and alcohol abuse is access. The more easily accessible, the more people will gamble and drink, especially if they are on low incomes. Before we get into the blame game, it should be noted that household spending data show beneficiaries spend the least of any group except the elderly on alcohol and cigarettes. 

Limiting damage from alcohol necessarily means restricting access. This is not nanny state interference: it is regulation of a specific product known to be addictive, and to have social consequences, for the greater public good. No one is saying you can’t drink, you just might have to walk a bit further to get your tipple.

Proof that drinking makes you charismatic
Given the already high density of liquor outlets in Mangere (106 liquor outlets in Mangere/Otahuhu) and the link between easy access to alcohol and violence towards women and children, it is extremely disappointing that the Auckland District Licencing Committee saw fit to grant the application by Thirsty Liquor for yet another liquor outlet in Mangere; one opposite a school, in fact. There was plenty of opposition to the application, and the mere fact it is opposite Southern Cross Campus should have set alarm bells ringing. Does the Licencing Committee not know we already have a problem with youth drinking? And it’s not just youth. Our child abuse and domestic violence figures show we have a problem with grown-ups drinking, too.

South Auckland doesn’t just need a two year moratorium on new alcohol outlets: it needs a sinking lid policy like that which has been applied to pokie machines. Achieving this will be a hard task for communities, their local boards and the Council. Like their gambling brothers in addiction, the alcohol industry is well-financed, aggressive and has marketing savvy (as proved by its ability to sell truckloads of RTDs). In the meantime, for the residents of Mangere who value the safety of their own and their neighbours’ tamariki and wahine, I have two words: consumer boycott. There’s only one way to run these social parasites out of town, and that’s to not give them your money.

NB. If you think this needs to be changed, please sign Duncan Garner's petition here

Declaration of interest: The writer is overly partial to a glass or three of red wine.