Hello, my name is MG. I’m 33 years old and I need to tell you that sometimes I like to buy alcohol from my local Tesco supermarket.
In a country populated by grown-ups that had a government with a relaxed attitude to the drinking habits of the citizenry such a confession would obviously be unnecessary.
However as we all know the UK has none of these things which is why I find myself confronted, with increasing regularity, with demands from the checkout assistants that I produce ID to confirm that I am indeed old enough to purchase the wine or beer that sometimes falls into my shopping basket.
You would have thought that it should be fairly easy to realise that I am clearly an adult, even if you are unable to say exactly how far beyond the currently minimum legal age of 18 I am. Sadly this is not the case as my local store operates a policy of asking for ID if you don’t look over 25.
Yes, the first time I was asked I was flattered. However as I do not habitually carry ID with me – UK law not yet requiring me to do so – this quickly turned into irritation and these days I save time by just going straight to irritated.
On the first few times I argued but you quickly learn that arguing with a checkout assistant is like arguing with a brick wall (and their supervisors are no better) so I no longer bother and instead start unpacking any goods I have already placed into my bags back to the checkout before picking up my (now empty) bags and walking out of the store.
This inane idea of challenging anyone who might be under 25 is the follow up to the ‘Challenge 21′ policy and is the brainchild of the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG) and it is co-ordinated by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).
It’s purpose? To reduce the amount of alcohol sold to under 18s. It’s members? Most, if not every, supermarket chain operating in the UK.
Why does it exist? Because following a meeting with Charles Clarke, one of the many authoritarian Home Secretaries this country had to put up with under the last government, the retailers apparently mutually agreed to sell out and get into bed with government, rather than to stand up to them and live with the bullying that would have probably otherwise have followed. Thus ‘Challenge 21′ was born.
However as those blessed with half a brain cell and an understanding of history know, surrendering just means you get to spend a good long while being someone else’s bitch. In the case of the RASG this means that their work is supported by the Home Office, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health.
This is apparently evidenced by the newer ‘Challenge 25‘ scheme:
However, with levels of sales to minors still not low enough and the personal consequences of illegal sales for the member of shop staff more severe, retailer employees requested a program which gives them a greater backing and a higher margin of error in challenging customers for proof of age.
Yes, when it is your paycheque on the line, you want to do your damnedest to ensure that you don’t get screwed over. Sadly it also means that common sense tends to go out of the window at the same time.
However how much did the RASG fight when the government of the day looked to start imposed these harsher penalties – or did their previous lack of doing so mean that they had no corner to fight?
I think it is probably safe to say that it was the government which decided that the level of alcohol sales to minors was still too high, although what that figure is I do not know – but one suspects that any figure above zero would be considered too high. Given that the utter elimination of alcohol sales to children is impossible, will the industry wake up to the situation they have found themselves in or are they now, like CAMRA, completely suffering from Stockholm Syndrome?
I meanwhile have decided that the time has come to find another supermarket to spend my money in.