Minimum Alcohol Pricing – I Fell Off The Fence, But Which Side?



Scotland and Ireland have brought in, or are trying to bring in, minimum pricing for the sale of alcohol, and this week there’s plenty in the UK wine press about the English following suit. It’s sparked a bit of controversy for many reasons. I guess the anglo-saxon culture in us all is a bit put out by being told that our booze options might be effected. Worth pointing out at this point that it’d be a few pence added to the cheapest stuff on the shelves, but still it’s kicked off an argument. I’ve had it on my mind for a bit, and I’ve slowly got to a position….just about anyway!

The Arguments For

You’ve got to look at it from a social and an economic point of view. Socially, should we be allowed to walk into a corner shop and buy 3 litres of super strength cider for under a fiver? There is no other reason to drink that stuff other than to get drunk. Let’s have it right! If a society can police itself then fair enough, but binge culture Britain is still a big problem, so clearly we’re not doing a great job of that in general.

The other thing is financial. To an extent the problem of abundant cheap alcohol is putting undue pressure on the NHS, policing, etc. It seems a no brainer that at some point they should be able to raise a bit of extra cash to cover that. And as I said, it’s not a flat rate tax increase, we’re just talking about a few pence on the really cheap “get it down your neck” kind of stuff, the stuff that could be argued to be the biggest culprit to the extra strain on public services.

The Arguments Against

I can see the point of those who worry about Big Brother. Is it right for the state to be telling you what you can and can’t drink? Well you’re not being told you can’t have it, it’s just that you can’t have it for less than 50p a litre or something like that. The minimum pricing would effectively just mean that you couldn’t buy a bottle of wine for less than £3. Well…er…fair enough, no? As much as some people are switched on enough to make decisions for themselves, some people genuinely aren’t. Go talk to doctors who work with smokers, or the obese, or whatever. Some of the lack of education and some of the personal choices are just scary!

The other thing is the idea of a tax on the poor. Cheap booze and cheap food are apparently what everyone’s after, so to stop allowing people access to that is apparently very mean spirited and against some kind of basic human right or some kind of shit like that. Sorry you’re not having that one on me. You don’t have the money, you do without. Simple as. I spent a couple of years working as a barman watching giro-chequers march in at midday and drink 10 pints of lager and smoke 40 ciggies a day. Why? Because they could! It was cheap and it was, and still is, the culture. No-one stands up and says “enough”!

In A Perfect World

If the world worked the way I’d like it to then the minimum pricing would come into effect, but (and it’s a big BUT) is there anyway of ensuring that the money went into helping addicts and hospital care for those too far gone? You look at the success of the smoking campaign in the 70s and 80s, smoking rates plummeted and money that was raised was channeled back into information campaigns. These days people are still allowed to smoke, but you know if you make that choice then it’s on you and you’re paying up for that choice too. We all just accept that now. Could the alcohol business follow suit? Or would the cash be siphoned off to pay for more ineffective bombing campaigns in Syria? Who knows eh?

I’m sure the debate will continue. I just hope they talk about it on Question Time so we have a break from hearing about Brexit and Trump. I’m sick of hearing it!!


8 thoughts on “Minimum Alcohol Pricing – I Fell Off The Fence, But Which Side?”

  1. I guess I´ll have to move to Ireland or Scotland soon.
    Here to the contrary, the government has increased taxes on smokes and alcohol. The two wonders of the world and they go and screw it up….so screw my country I´m going to be an expatriat

  2. Interesting perspective – generally I agree that I think as you’re saying, it’s a public health argument where we balance the pros of expected reductions in consumption across the most harmful drinkers versus the cons of ‘interfering’ with the market.

    Where caution is needed is around reducing the choices of those who smoke or drink harmfully to a lack of education. Substance misuse and it’s causes are complex and deep routed, and hugely influenced by our environment – including price. Sure, we want to support people with informed decision making, but one of the key points is that can be of very limited value if the broader environment is working in the opposite direction.

    All drug policy is arguably a balancing act between over regulation (prohibition) and under regulation (alcohol in this case). I’m not saying I want supermarkets to be able to sell any drugs, but if we were surely we do not want them to sell them at a loss to get customers through the door?

    1. Hey James, definitely understand what you mean. Of course it’s a much more complex situation than that, and you can’t just change culture or circumstance by adding a couple of pence onto a bottle of wine. But we’re not suggesting anything is made unaffordable, just that the idea you can buy a bottle of wine for less than £3 is a bit daft. From a pure production point of view that stuff is not made to enjoy, and struggles to be classified as even a wine. Will definitely be reading your updates with interest going forward!

  3. Yes, perhaps in the same way white cider isn’t going to resemble real cider much!

    However a lot of off-trade units (around half) fall under a 50 pence MUP. Mostly cheap beer and spirits, especially vodka. Of course these units are disproportionately consumed by harmful drinkers hence the measure being argued as ‘targeted’.

    Personally I can’t respect arguements claiming the evidence base is weak, but accept people have different views on the role of the Government on such issues.

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