We need to abolish the curfew


The 10pm curfew is counterproductive and will hurt the hospitality sector

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Image by Christian Birkholz

By Lizzie Martin

“Drink earlier, drink faster, drink stronger,” was my coworker’s suggestion for Boris Johnson’s new slogan as he announced the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants. Already, social media was alerting us that neighbouring businesses were pushing their happy hours earlier and earlier in an attempt to compensate for the hours of serving time they were losing. Lunchtime jagerbombs, anyone?

With the R rate racing up exponentially, it’s clear that more needs to be done to protect the country and its people from the threat of COVID-19. However, as a worker in the hospitality industry, it’s difficult not to feel as though the 10pm curfew imposed on September 24 could potentially do more damage than good.

It’s a viewpoint that my colleagues and I are not alone in. With MPs such as Andy Burnham and York’s Rachael Maskell calling for an urgent review of the policy and the #cancelthecurfew movement gaining thousands of voices on social media, it’s clear to see that the government’s policy is far from universally popular. But is it scientifically worth it, or merely a cruel blow to an industry that’s already on its knees? Pubs across the United Kingdom have reported that sales are down 37 per cent from last year, with the chief executive of UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls, saying that the curfew is ‘quickly killing our sector’, with many companies set to go out of business if the trends continue. Workers’ hours have been slashed, with some of my full-time colleagues going down to 3 days a week and part-timers potentially getting no shifts at all.  In fact, a report for the British Beer & Pubs Association showed a bleak prediction - that a third of jobs were at risk of disappearing, and that a quarter of pubs across the country could be forced to close if things don’t change. Introducing a policy that further damages a sector which contributes nearly 4 per cent  to the UK’s GDP is a move which therefore seems illogical in a time where the economy is so shaky.

Concerns aren’t just about the impact on the hospitality industry, though, with many claiming that the policy is counterproductive and could actually increase the spread of COVID-19 rather than reducing it. Videos have circulated the internet showing the scenes once the pubs eject everybody onto the street at 10pm sharp- large crowds of people queueing for buses and taxis, or piling into the nearest supermarket for more alcohol so they can carry on drinking at home. With bars’ normal staggered closing times, ranging from 10pm to midnight or even later, drinkers were encouraged to leave in dribs and drabs when they’d had enough. What this policy seems to have done instead is cause everybody to neck their final pint and stumble out the pub doors at the same time. One of Johnson’s reasons for imposing the curfew in the first place is the effect that alcohol has in lowering people’s capacity for social distancing, so a policy which inherently creates more crowding seems illogical.
Not only this, but the curfew could be seen to do little but move drinkers away from an area with controlled social distancing and track and trace systems in place and into unmonitored afterparties in people’s houses. A Global Drug Survey in September showed that 48% of Britons were consuming more alcohol now than before the pandemic, and that the proportion of alcohol drunk in the home rather than in licensed premises was rising too. It feels as though impact of the 10pm curfew might simply be that people roll out of the pubs at closing, go to Tesco for booze and then have their mates back to drink in their kitchens, presumably sometimes in numbers larger than six.

At the very least, the government owes it to the hospitality industry to publish any evidence provided by SAGE or another scientific body that shows the curfew is genuinely necessary to minimise the spread of COVID-19. And with a vote on the curfew measures expected sometime over the next week and a cross-party group of more than 25 MPs leading the charge against the policy, there is some cause for hospitality businesses to have hope that the end of the curfew is in sight. But if it remains in place, without significant financial backing from the government, the effects could be crippling not only for the hospitality industry but for the country’s economy as a whole.