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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Friday, 5 February 2010

How "87000" glassing injuries a year gave the neopros a bit of a headache

We had a bit of fun yesterday over the latest hysterical media circus around the dangers of drinking.

The Home Office have employed a design agency to come up with a new, safer beer glass in an attempt to reduce violent attacks with broken glasses in pubs.

The most important bit first: the design agency claim to have come up with a glass that looks the same as a normal beer glass, feels the same, and costs the same for pubs to buy, but has a laminate coating that means the glass will not shatter into shards if broken. Here's what it looks like when dropped:

And here's a link to a BBC video of how it works.

This is a clever move - when the initiative was announced back in September they scared us with the prospect of banning glass from pubs. Newspapers pronounced the 'death of the pint glass' and its replacement with some crappy plastic/polycarbonate thing that would probably be the wrong shape and have pictures of flowers on it to calm everyone down. So if this new glass is everything it's cracked up to be (sorry), and if the laminate coating doesn't impact upon the flavour, aroma or carbonation of the beer, you'd have to be a bit of a mental to think that it's not a good idea.

So what's the problem?

The problem is the epidemic of broken beer glass assaults that this new design is going to help solve. The money and attention given to this initiative is necessary, we are told, because of the sheer number of assaults, the terrible injuries they do, and of course the cost of all this to the NHS and society at large.

The Times tells us that " Last year 85,000 people were attacked with glasses, leaving many scarred for life." The BBC agrees, reporting that "Nearly 87,000 injuries are caused by glass attacks each year in England and Wales, according to the Home Office. Many more are hurt as a result of accidents." The Mail tells us there are "
around 87,000 violent incidents involving glassware each year, which costs an annual estimate of £100m in NHS, police and court costs." The Telegraph goes further, with "Up to 1,000 youngsters a week suffer serious facial injuries in drunken assaults with many left scarred for life", and that "Treating such injuries costs the NHS £2.7 billion a year".

Pretty conclusive, right? So where does this 85,000-87,000 figure come from?

I spent an hour yesterday trying to find it somewhere. But the only Home Office figure I could find was 5,000 - a figure quite different from that quoted in every single newspaper report that covered the story. But the newspapers clearly said that 87,000 was a Home Office figure.

What was going on?

When I couldn't, I asked my followers on Twitter to help me. The results they brought back speak volumes about how anti-alcohol scare stories are being spread.

Melissa Cole phoned the home office and was told that the figure was 5000 when the initiative was announced, by had leapt to 87000 in the intervening months. Given that alcohol-related crime is down, and that violent attacks of any kind are down 33% over the last 12 years (none of the newspapers seemed to find this relevant either), that seems unlikely.

@junklight went back to the Telegraph story and found that, even though the headline claimed 1000 people a week were scarred by glass attacks only 5000 of these attacks took place every year. Skipping over the physics-defying possibility that every single glass attack somehow results in scarring injuries to ten people, the Telegraph goes on to quote a figure of 80,000 'threats' as well as the 5000 actual attacks to get to that 85,000 figure.

Peter Haydon of Meantime Brewing was at the press launch for the new glass and asked where the figure came from. He was told by the Home Office representative there that 87k was the total number of alcohol-related assaults, and that the number involving glassware was actually 5,000.

@Iamreddave found a home office report on violent crime and worked out some stats from that. This data gives a total figure of 2164000 assaults of any kind in the Uk, and in a different charts says that bottles or broken glass are involved in 4% of all assaults. Divide the total, and you get 86560.

So looking at it, I'd suggest Red Dave is right about where the 87,000 figure comes from. The trouble with that is that it relates to ALL assaults of any kind with any glass or bottle, anywhere - and yet the media is claiming every single one of these assaults is someone with a broken pint glass in a pub.

Elsewhere in those Home Office tables, there's a figure for all violent crime 'in or around pubs', and that figure is 623000 assaults. Here it claims glasses or bottles were used in 10% of all assaults - which gives you a figure of 62,300.

Another antineopro blogger with a source close to the action confirmed to me last night that the official Home Office figure is 5,500 reported assaults, but that there are another 37,000 that go unreported. As he points out, if they're unreported, how do they know?

In other words, this is a news story that is based upon a complete and utter fabrication.

Here are some real facts:
  • The £2.7 billion figure quoted as the cost of glassing accidents to society is actually the estimated cost of ALL alcohol related conditions treated by the NHS, according to the NHS.
  • NHS data shows that the other figure - £100 million - is the cost of ALL glass-related injuries treated by the NHS, accidental or otherwise, alcohol-related or not.
  • The Hospital Episode Statistics from the NHS list all external causes of hospital admissions. In 2009 it treated 10413 for unspecified 'contact with sharp glass' and a further 5226 people for injuries sustained by an 'assault by a sharp object'. The former covers every single accident involving glasses, the latter includes knife injuries etc. The true number of beer glass-related injuries is buries somewhere within one or both these figures and is therefore clearly much smaller than we are being led to believe. It's not clear why the 'many' of the Times' 85,000 who are 'scarred for life', or the Telegraph's '1000 a week' who receive horrific glassing injuries, are not going to hospital to have these injuries seen to.
  • To put this in context, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reports that 40,000 people are injured in accidents in the pub. So should we ban pubs then? Hardly - people might go home instead, and that's far more dangerous - 100,000 people injure themselves each year trying to assemble furniture, and last year there were 5310 accidents involving trousers.
Home Office data shows that 2% of all pub-goers are involved in any kind of assault each year. 43% of these assaults are described as 'grabbing or pushing'. Only 16% of assaults result in cuts of any kind. Around two thirds of victims in alcohol-related assaults describe themselves as being affected 'not at all' or 'just a little', with around 15% affected 'quite a lot' and 15% 'very much'. Only 4-10% involve glasses or bottles, The vast majority involve fists, feet or blunt instruments.

So why such a huge focus on the pint glass? Why has the government spent so much time and money on something that, while horrific for those exposed to it, affects fewer people than those hurting themselves trying to put together a crappy IKEA wardrobe?

Now we've established that those are actual figures, and that no one in the media or the Home Office seems to know what this 87,000 figure is or where it came from, and that 87,000 is actually sixteen times higher than the REAL Home Office figure, go back and read those newspaper quotes on stats again. And get angry. Get very angry.

Just don't get angry enough to glass anyone.

21 comments:

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

I’m concerned about the rash of accidents involving trousers, I think I might stop wearing them — that’ll save me from a lot of damage. Are there any figures for accidents involving kilts or dressing gowns?

red dave said...

the "85,000 who are 'scarred for life'," claim is odd. Of the roughly 87000 of attacks using glass 28020 resulted in wounding which is more than minor injury. p25 here http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs08/hosb0708chap3.pdf

Why assume that any attack with a bottle or glass results in someone being 'scarred for life'?

Still the sheer number of attacks very high and the number that are percieved to involve alcohol p29 is worrying (but unchanged overtime)

Mof Gimmers said...

Ah. You've missed a trick here. It's clearly a case of people getting lamped because someone 'looked at their pint'.

Pints come in glasses.

You see where this is going?

Ban This Sick Glassy Filth, obviously.

Dave said...

It does the argument no good to be seemingly blase about the effect of glassing by comparing them to flat-pack furniture injuries; as far as I know, people don't have mental health issues as a result of bodged wardrobe assembly.

Glasses can cause really bad accidents. They can cause serious scarring. They can kill. And if there's an alternative which doesn't have those associations, then fan-bloody-tastic. If human ingenuity can prevent stuff like this, then really, what's not to like?

The real story here is that the media are such a credulous bunch of churnalistic idiots who have not got the resources to factc heck, led by editors with a propensity for controversy, hyperbole and scandal and scaremongering. They've done exactly the same with the debate on immigration.

Monctonian said...

Hmmm...so if 87,000 is the total number of glass attacks and the 'in pub' figure is only 5,000, that's 82,000 happening somewhere else.

Given the number of glasses used in pubs compared to elsewhere and the number of customers passing through in an evening, compared to - generally - lots of couples at House parties where more will not drink because of driving and lots of folk walk to pubs, I struggle to think how assaults with a glass would be at least 16 times as high away from pubs.

I don't dispute exaggeration of figures; I'm just not sure this is the answer.

PivnĂ­ Filosof said...

All this posting about the neopros speaks not so much about the sick attitude some people have towards alcohol, but about how low journalistic standards seem to have fallen.

No wonder more and more people are preferring to read blogs.

BLTP said...

Is there any reason why drinks such as alcopops which are consumed in short period of time aren't in plastic bottles (other than arsey branding issues). Not sure of the full story but they would easier and lighter to transport. Cause less mess when dropped (a much large problem I'll wager) and let's face the plastics not going to "taint" them!

Alan said...

"Why has the government spent so much time and money on something that, while horrific for those exposed to it, affects fewer people than those hurting themselves trying to put together a crappy IKEA wardrobe?"

If the number had been originally stated as 5,000 would there still be a cause to get very angry? You may have a proper point about the accuracy and agenda of the politics but, again, I am at a bit of a loose end trying to figure out your approach to public safety analysis. You may also have a proper point about credulous media but that still does not refute the existence of an underlying issue.

It isn't about IKEA furniture or trousers if 5,000 are actually scarred. That is just an absurdist rhetorical reaction and ultimately not helpful any more than the media you accuse are. Is it that 5,000 scarring incidents a year not enough to create a policy over? If so, we need to find that out. Or is it that you doubt even the accuracy of the 5,000? Again, there must be available proof on that point. Or is it a reaction to any regulation as being an example of what they call in the States a "blue law" and inherently only about morality? If that is the case, that is itself a moral point and difficult to raise to the level of discussion.

If 5,000 people are actually injured in any activity public safety should require public inquiry and public remedy based on a balancing of interests. What interests are served by preserving glass were the 5,000 injury statistic to be valid? The fact that the glass feels nice to hold? That it is the way things have always been? If serious injuries are real wouldn't anything that would balance off against them have to be pretty important?

I think it is key to make sure any anti-neo-prohibitionist argument looks as sensible as possible - in in fact not look like a anti-neo-prohibitionist argument as "neo-prohibitionist" is itself a label that smacks of an absurdist rhetorical reaction.

You are not the author of this reaction as it is a commonly used way in beer writing right now of describing the analytical gap from one side of the debate. But I think it behooves us all as thinkers about beer to be better than that if the argument is to be politically compelling and I think it is the case that we can, in fact, make the argument compelling if the facts as yet unknown support it.

Pete loves the Straw Man said...

I think it's you who's being hysterial, trying to whip people into a frenzy about "neo-pros". Just get a real job - it's so much more satisfying that desperately trying to carve out a sad little niche as a "beer writer".

Pete Brown said...

I love it!

You spend your Friday night trolling blogs, and yet you think I'm the loser here?

You must talk me through your thinking on that - unless you intended it as a really funny joke.

Alan said...

We all live and work in our own sad little niches. Those that come with beer are just that bit less sad so anyone who can actually pull off a career as beer writer only deserves our envy as far as I can tell.

Yet mocking beer blog trolling on Friday night? A fella can only rewatch his old Doctor Who and Captain Scarlet DVDs so often, Pete.

Clive said...

I was awaiting your commentary on this story with interest. Makes me want to weep that even the BBC don't do basic fact checking.

Stono said...

Alan part of the issue as has been alluded to, if glass injuries are the problem to fix, why have only pint glasses been considered for this treatment, most pubs will have behind the bar an assortment of (and not limited to) half pint glasses, 4 pt glass jugs, wine glasses, wine bottles, shot glasses,spirit tumbler style glasses, soft drink bottles, beer bottles, cider bottles, cocktail glasses.

so pint glasses arent the only glass "weapon", yet are the only ones being given this treatment, which is the classic neoprohibitionist view that only pint beer drinking people cause trouble.

and its not simply a case of a glass looking or feeling right, beer tastes different out of a glass, than plastic or even a pewter tankard as was once the favoured vessel, and it has alot to do with the chemistry of beer and how bubbles form on material surfaces which can be affected by temperature.,

one final point, current pint glasses are deliberately designed to be more resilient/stronger at the moment to cope with constant dishwashing temperature changes, and the atypical battering they get in pub usage, getting stacked, knocked together all the time. But this means when they do smash they produce bigger more dangerous shards.

If we accepted thinner glasses instead, that would break more often,so would be an additional cost for a landlord (so maybe not a popular move), but they would be more likely to break into smaller less harmful pieces.

Sid Boggle said...

Clive: The Radio Times recently carried a piece about pubs and alcohol use in soaps, and used 2004 data to claim booze was half the cost, that drinking had doubled since 1970 etc...

way of the ale said...

This whole story really does uncover how the government really do have a wider agenda that involves restricting the sale of alcohol.

Either 1) The select few of you who analysed the figures and displayed them in the correct light should be in government.

2) The powers that be are completely incompetant & are clutching at votes before the election or:-

3)This is part of a wider objective aimed at marginalising drinkers in general with an end game of making drinking socially unacceptable.

I myself thinks it's the latter we must fight this tooth and bloody nail or god help us what a world we are ushering in!!!

Do your bit, comment on blogs, write letters & send emails!

The TRUE fact of the matter the pub is still and always will be the safest social setting to drink and socialise...END OF!!

Jim-of-oz said...

Wow - it's pretty dangerous over there. I think I'll take my next vacation in someplace safer like Beirut or Karachi instead of Bicester.
Less flying glass.

Coxy said...

I don't care if the figures are bull shit in this case as I am all for these glasses if it means I can get a better tasting pint around football grounds, I always have to drink well away from the grounds because all the pubs have awful plastic glasses, I always end up late in.
It is however strange to concentate on the 6% of the total injuries and would in my humble opinion be better to concentrate tax payers money on sterilisation of Chavs who my mate Ian in the White Hart says are responsible for 68% of stuff that the daily Mail write about.

Philip said...

Clever

DJ said...

I think they are a good idea but it would be nice to see the reasoning behind it based on actual fact.

joe said...

I have travelled to the UK for a 2-3 week holiday every 2-3 years since 1990. We see at least 1 castle and 1 catherdal each visit. The CAMRA best pub guide is our trip planner. We see 4 to 8 pubs per day. I want to thank all of you for keeping the evildoers away while we are visiting. I have never seen a glass assault during any visit. Hope to return this year.

Hans Sander said...

Like everywhere else there is a "nanny state" tendency to legislate for everything including glassing. In my mind it all have to do with the increase in population, the multicultural craze,the hard rock music, the pressure for the publican to increase sales and instead of enjoying beer and spirits to get pissed as quickly as possible. Take an example, if you walk into a bar full of people and some good western country music is playing, people listen to the words, put on some hard rock, you don't hear anything at all not even the sound when you knock back you drink. With the introduction of a plastic glass I can only presume we will have paper cups within a couple of years.
Hans Sander, www.wineandbeerglasses.blogspot.com