Friday, 18 May 2012

Minimum pricing won't work

Firstly, sorry there hasn't been anything new recently I've been extremely busy with preparation for, and the doing of, my final set of exams at uni. Now to the issue at hand.

The issue of minimum pricing has come up hugely in the media recently. With Scotland recently announcing that the minimum price will be set at 50p a unit. The figure of saving 500 lives a year has been bandied around in the  papers over the last few days. This is a policy based on bad facts, government incompetence and media spin. Minimum pricing won't work. It's that simple; the fact I'm a beer fan has nothing to do with my views on this. It's just a lazy policy. The reasons for this are numerous and lengthy so I'll try and be brief.

1. "Raising the price of alcohol will lower consumption"

I don't dispute this fact. You can't really argue against this. However, while it may lower consumption of "official" alcohol, the illicit, imported and home brewed beer industries will flourish. Home brewed beer already weighs in at nearly a 1/10th price of a pint in a pub. Increasing the price differential will only drive more people to other sources of alcohol. There also has to be a real fear that increasing the price of alcohol will push more and more of the poorest people in Britain into drug use. It's not a far cry for the homeless guy to swap his few cans of Special Brew for harder drugs. This can be seen most commonly across the pond in the US where heroin addiction is an epidemic within the larger cities. The other point here is that I wasn't aware alcohol consumption was rising. The problem is not of consumption as a whole it's about people over indulging and the long term damage of this. Binge drinking and it's related social disorder is an issue upon itself.

2. Minimum pricing disproportionally affects the poorest in society

I'm a student with a reasonable amount of disposable income. I can afford to spend £6 on a bottle of Triple Quad Hopped Imperial IPA. However, for the majority of the population alcohol is becoming significantly more costly. What right does Cameron and his buddies have the right to tell people that their weekly beers on a Friday after a hard week paying off the deficit are too unhealthy, too damaging and too cheap. The minimum pricing will do nothing to reduce the consumption of those who can afford to pay for it. Taxes and price increases on goods disproportionately affect the poor. The increase in price won't change peoples attitudes to drinking it will just mean more money is spent. We've seen the tax on alcohol increase 40% since I've been an adult and binge drinking has never been worse. While consumption is falling the problems are not. We've tried the price increase method and it's been found not to work.

3. Alcohol and cigarettes are an easy target

People don't like smokers; they smell, they poison us "normal", non social lepers of soceity. People also don't like binge drinkers. Smokers and drinkers are easy targets for government taxes. I don't agree with this. Smokers are people too; they're also probably paying for a sizeable part of your NHS. I like smokers; they selflessly pollute their own bodies so we can have public services. It's very easy to vilify people for the lifestyle choices they make but it's a fruitless exercise. Plenty of other things are dangerous and cost the NHS money but I don't see anyone advocating a tax on extreme sports or bungee jumping. Things are unhealthy, get over it. People should have the right to choose how to live their life without government or the media telling them otherwise

Minimum pricing is a lazy policy from a lazy government who have no idea how to solve the alcohol crisis in this country. I think most people are in agreement that lowering the price differential between the on and off trade would go some way to reducing binge drinking. The staggering thing here is that many of the problems of the British nation could be solved by lowering alcohol duty and bringing the price of on trade beer down to off trade levels. The brewing and pub industry is one of the only real manufacturing industries we have left. It employs nearly 1 million people and Cameron is dicing with these peoples livelihoods. If I see one more politician promoting a "policy for growth" and then almost immediately smashing the few remaining industries we have I might cry.

The real solution to the binge drinking problem is proper education of young people about alcohol and a concerted campaign about the benefits of moderate drinking. Alcohol needs to change from being the big bogeyman hidden away that's only allowed out at the weekend to a social activity between friends. People need to stop drinking to get drunk and drink because they enjoy the times they have. There's a very special quality about alcohol that brings people together which isn't replicated in many other settings. But these campaigns and education schemes cost money and the current government are doing all they can to avoid spending a dime at the moment. It's highly ironic that the real solution to the problem is being left out and what we're getting is conveniently also a great tax raising exercise.


  1. Further on your second point Colin. Let's take an example with Gin: London's Gin, Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray gin will not have their prices change as they are already over 50p/unit but cheaper bottles of Gin will be pricier. So this doesn't affect people like us who already buy those "expensive" bottles but only affect people who can only afford the cheaper versions.

  2. I agree entirely. The only thing I’d add is that if it is morally correct to prohibit the poorest from drinking, then the same argument applies to the richest. A guy in a minimum wage job buying a few cans from the bargain booze is no more danger to society than beer geeks in pubs or call me Dave and his expensive wine. Any minimum price would quickly increase. Those that think it doesn’t affect them will eventually find it does.

    Also if you segment society between those that can afford a drink, and those that cannot, when the anti alcohol lobby point their guns at your pleasure you’ll find yourself defending it alone.

    It may be right and proper to banish cigarettes from our society, but when you look at what the anti alcohol lobby are about. Higher prices, advertising restrictions & lowering the social acceptability of a glass of what you fancy it is the same strategy used to abolish smoking. If we are not careful in 20 years drinkers will be the same pariahs as smokers are today.

    CAMRA seem to think it will push people into pubs. It puts no more money in the pockets of the poorest to go out and use pubs and it contributes to the direction of alcohol denormalisation and eventual prohibition.

  3. I also forgot to note that there is a link on the right hand side to the petition to stop minimum pricing. While you're at it you can sign the petition to stop the duty escalator as well. The link is