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.
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.