Thursday, January 17, 2013

Government figures cast doubt on the minimum alcohol pricing push

I recently nominated the proposal for Minimum Alcohol Pricing as the worst government policy of 2012 (there was plenty of competition).

I don't want to bang on about it too much but a couple of things have come to my attention which reinforce the sentiment of the original post: the policy is unfair to the vast majority of people who are not "problem drinkers" and the government is trying to push it through with some dodgy stats (see Cameron's dodgy dossier).

Firstly I read David Cameron's defence of the policy he is championing so strongly, contained in the forward to the Government Alcohol Strategy.  He claims that half of all alcohol consumed in the UK is "binge drinking" (apparently 2 glasses of wine qualifies as a binge).

He writes that something must be done and the "root cause" is cheap alcohol which we must "come down hard on". Well thanks to massive pub-closing, job destroying alcohol duty rises we have seen drinks prices soar in recent years.  And perhaps this is why alcohol consumption has fallen.

Although this was mentioned nowhere in Cameron's statement or the entire government strategy document, which gave the impression of a sozzled Britain out of control on binges of epic proportions, there has been a big shift towards lower consumption even by the government's own figures (produced by HM Customs and Excise) which show a 13% fall in alcohol consumed between 2005 and 2010.  Sales have declined further since.  Alleged binge-drinking among men under 24 is down by 10%.

Presumably the PM leaves out this inconvenient information to leave us all under the impression that an extra £96 in the average couple's drinks bills is a price we all have to pay to crack down on the hardcore drunks who are causing so much concern.

And there is a problem.  Alcohol-related hospital admissions have climbed steadily from 500,000 in 2002 to over a million in 2009. Grim stats but not ones that were improved by the fall in average consumption.  In fact the evidence suggests that whacking up prices for normal people merely reduces their enjoyment and disposable incomes while doing nothing to deal with the complex social problem of alcohol abuse.

The other stat I saw was reported in the Telegraph - the Treasury have forecast that alcohol consumption will continue to fall (by 2.4 billion units!) over the next 6 years.  And these forecasts explicitly do not take account of Minimum Alcohol Pricing.

In summary the government wants to bring in higher drinks prices by law on top of big tax rises to achieve something which its own figures say is going to happen any way.  The stats on hospital admissions also seem to show that punishing moderate consumers does nothing to stop alcohol abusers harming themselves and society.

The government should look at its own statistics and withdraw the Minimum Alcohol Pricing proposal.

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