Coffee House

Minimum pricing, maximum controversy

15 February 2012

Just because there’s no PMQs today, it doesn’t mean you won’t hear from David Cameron.
The Prime Minister is readying his anti-booze cruise once again, and
taking it on tour to a hospital in the North East. Once there, he will rail against ‘alcohol abuse’ and its consequences, which include, he will say, a £2.7 billion a year bill
for the NHS. And he will preview some of the solutions that may make it into the government’s ‘alcohol strategy’ next month: ‘drunk tank’ cells where binge drinkers can be
dumped overnight; ‘booze buses’ to deliver people to these cells; police heavies in A&E wards; and, possibly, minimum pricing for alcohol.

Confusion abounds on the last of these. Last week, it was suggested that a minimum price of 50p per unit could save around 10,000 lives a year. But Tim Worstall spotted a problem with that figure: it’s greater than the number of people who die ‘alcohol related’
deaths in one year. And so the number being peddled today is 2,000 lives a year.  

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And there are other questions around minimum pricing, too. How does it fit in with an approach to alcohol taxation that sees strong beer taxed at much higher rates than strong cider? And will EU
laws allow it?  

But this uncertainty is as nothing compared to the political controversy that would be provoked were the government to introduce minimum pricing. Andrew Lansley has already spoken out against it, and for one major reason: it would hit the least
well-off harder. An IFS report last year found that a minimum price of 45p would, as a proportion of income, cost more for poorer drinkers —
and much of the money would go towards supermarkets’ and drinks manufacturers’ profit margins. Few MPs will be eager to back that sort of policy at a time of squeezed living, even if it does guard
against the excesses of a minority.

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Show comments
  • Roy

    How strange; the country in the doldrums for work availability, yet it seems all have sufficient to spend on booze. One would think the answer for the prime minister is right there in front of him. You can’t cosy up to the brewers – making it easier and easier to off-load their stock, and try to keep some semblance of civic order on the streets. A little more encouragement to the churches might help, rather than witness their decline. So many ways to work for a better society, yet the PM sees the NHS as the answer, surely this is last resort, when all else is lost.

  • Heartless C.

    Thank you Ghengis and others, – yes, simply apply existing law.

    So simple. And it used to work. I wonder why it doesn’t now? (nswr not required)

  • Jon Stack

    Idiotic nannying, which will have no effect. Although I must say “booze buses” sound like tremendous fun.
    Tackle the problem from a different angle: stop free healthcare at the point of use, and charge the drunks themselves for use of police time when police are used to deal with those drunks.

  • Olaf from Norway

    The whole population of England needs to join Alcoholics Anonymous

  • Olaf from Norway

    The English are just a nation of drunks.

  • Ghengis

    Rhoda – yes – all these posts with not a mention of Drunk and Disorderly. This Law surficed more than adequately when the police enforced it and the JP’s punished where appropriate.

  • TomTom

    “they have never seen adults feeding alcohol to children in parks, playing fields and carparks all over the country.”

    ALL over the country…really Trevor, I thought you didn’t get out much, but checking car parks nationally makes you sound a bit pervy

  • Little Englander

    I’ll be off to France shortly to stay with some French friends. The alcohol will be plentiful and cheap, but none of us will get ratted. It’s not the price, it’s the culture, stupid.

  • In2minds

    Perhaps if Cameron had a hobby it would occupy his mind and give him a purpose in life and then we would be spared this folly.

  • TrevorsDen

    Usual shite from the usual suspects. Clearly they have never seen adults feeding alcohol to children in parks, playing fields and carparks all over the country.

    The Speccy really should get an award for all the dick heads it attracts.

  • daniel maris

    Do people rail against the sports injury bill? It would be interesting to know how much sports injuries cost the NHS each year. Also, how much do sports and exercise add to the NHS bill by preventing death soon after retirement? I think if you look at it all round, we are probably talking of several billions.

  • Andrew Saint

    Didn’t Blair try something similar about eight or nine years ago? I wish William Hill were giving odds on this latest “initiative” producing absolutely zilch. More Blair-like grandstanding from Cameron

  • Liz Brown

    Cameron seems unable to see a bandwagon without jumping on it.

  • In2minds

    “And will EU laws allow it”?

    So we leave if they don’t, repatriate powers to the HoC? Or on the other hand we could nudge the EU, give them billions of pounds to support the single currency while they think about it.

  • exile on euro street

    I see the comments system is playing up again, so here’s my two-penneth again several hours after the first try:
    Making booze is not expensive and not that difficult. Many of these “poorer drinkers” will simply brew/distill their own or buy from illicit traders selling below the artificial price floor. Quality might be a bit variable, so wait for the hand-wringing from the NHS about the cost of treating methanol poisoning from dodgy hooch.

  • Kittler

    Strong White “Cider” at £1.20 for 2 ltr bottle. In the name of freedom, do we have to have this stuff?

  • DavidDP

    “He doesn’t understand that price controls *always* produce the opposite effect to the one intended. “

    No they don’t. Not *always*.

    I have no problem with people drinking themselves stupid if it’s what they want. What I do have a problem with is that it’s got to the point where it is costing me money – my taxes are having to go to deal with the problems that such drinkers now cause, be it cleaning up or police coverage. At that point, where private activity starts to have a public cost, it is perfectly reasonable that the public representatives step in to try and ameliorate the costs to the rest of us who don’t have such behavioural problems.

  • Jeff Dudgeon

    Start saving money and drinkers’ lives by not granting DLA to alcoholics and drug addicts. Unsurprisingly they just spend the money on drink and drugs and have the remainder stolen from them. But the government insists such benefits are given for the claimant’s state of health not how they spend the money. That, or make them pay for the army of key workers etc the state sends in to assist.

  • MilkSnatcher

    Rhoda: you mean like tobacco taxes, product safety legislation, petrol taxes, air passenger duty, mandatory seat belts, mobile phones handsfree in cars, that sort of stuff?

  • stereodog

    All of the above ideas are great apart from the central one, a minimum price on alcohol. Why should I pay more for my drinks on the rare occasion I indulge because a minority can’t behave. A law that punishes the law abiding in equal proportion to the transgressor isn’t a good law.

  • michael

    Prohibition light… Wot’s that booze marche in Calais called.

  • Olaf

    Cheap alcohol is a simplification of teh problem just like the ‘speed kills’ crap that gets peddled around.
    The problem is cheap supermarket booze coupled with a lack of enforcement of public disorder.
    Make supermarket booze dearer and pub booze cheaper. Put responsibility on publicans not to serve very drunk people and save some pubs for responsible drinkers. At the moment the difference in price between drinking at home and at the pub is far too wide.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    ..and across the country people are offended by the idea of a price increase affecting all in order to influence some. Who among us is so demented by the aim of controlling others’ behaviour that we would support such a policy. Or in short, where are the votes in this?

    Oh, and do not those who drink themselves to death cost the NHS less than those who live to a ripe old age mindless in a care home?

  • tom jones

    Hey, guys, you know how we’re quite unpopular with people lower down the pay scale? Why don’t we up the price of booze. You know? The one thing poor people can do to help them escape their horrible lives where work takes up most of their time and then they go home to bad homes and struggle to get by? What a vote winner. Stop being an idiot, Cameron! Go live on an estate for a month and learn!!!

  • MilkSnatcher

    Things that are “good” for poorer people because they might cost them money don’t get introduced, but things that are bad for the economy, because they cost rich people, like confiscatory taxes, are introduced.

    Alcohol pricing is supposed to cost people because if it didn’t it wouldn’t deter drinking.

    Why oh why does the taxpayer have to continue to indulge the weak-willed in the name of “fairness”?

  • Cjamesk

    Yet more State interference…..

  • Frederick James

    “Prohibition for proles” is an excellent coinage and will gain wide currency, I hope. If Peter Hoskin is correct that the number of lives “saved” has been revised from 10,000 a year down to 2,000 in the space of the past week it underlines that this is vacuous gesture politics of the worst kind, driven by a health establishment whose instinct is to interfere in and control others’ lives and who see this as the next click on the ratchet.

    As an aside, I’m frustrated by the bland and unthinking use of “lives saved” in this context. All it means is dying of one thing instead of another. One life equals one death; no lives are ever “saved”. If the concept could be expressed in terms of “improved quality of life times times years gained” it would then have some meaning; but I suspect that the resulting numbers would not support the medics’ political agenda so there is no incentive to develop this kind of metric.

  • Austin Barry

    All Cameron need do is to extend the drink driving laws so that the penalties apply, mutatis mutandis, to pedestrians.

    Thus ‘walking or attempting to walk with excess alcohol” will incur a £5,000 fine, with increasing penalties for subsequent offences.

    This should constrain the problem until it is finally solved with the inevitable advent of Sharia law.

  • Slim Jim

    So much for the fairly recent review and implementation of licensing laws. If they are not up to the task, why have they remained in place? Also, what will this ‘idea’ do for his ‘Happiness Index’?

  • Tarka the Rotter

    Are Cameron and Blair one and the same? Is New Labour still in power? Did we have an election in 2010? Seems its ‘same old, same old’ with knobs on…

  • Brian A

    Another pointless gesture from Cameron. He seems wedded to the ‘something must be done’ school of government meddling. I do not understand what constituency he is aiming for with these sorts of initiatives – the the liberal left will not vote for a Tory, no matter how wet, while natural conservatives are getting increasingly disillusioned with his unwillingness to tackle the real problems of rising government debt and declining economic performance. Displacement activities of this kind are no substitute for meaningful action on the economy.

  • SJH

    This will punish the Scots disproportionately.

    Cameron getting his 2015 majority by stealth. One for SteveHiltonGuru.

  • Bob Dixon

    We need drink so we can get relief from the nightmare of quantative easing and its effects now and in the future.

  • Nicholas Hallam

    “Last week, it was suggested that a minimum price of 50p per unit could save around 10,000 lives a year. But Tim Worstall spotted a problem with that figure: it’s greater than the number of people who die ‘alcohol related’ deaths in one year. And so the number being peddled today is 2,000 lives a year. “

    Another number plucked out of the air by people who want to interfere with freedom.

  • Submariner

    I really wish politicians and the medical profession would remember that they exist to serve the public, not to make the pulic serve them. This is exactly the sort of social interference we expect from NuLab, not from a Conservative PM.

  • Axstane


    I find myself agreeing with you for the second time in a week. Quite right – enforce the laws we have. New laws are not necessary to deal with this phenomenon.

  • Philip Walker

    This stupid policy always makes me think of Sir Humphrey: ‘If you must do this damn silly thing, don’t do it in this damn silly way.’

    I’m not persuaded of the merits of government-mandated alcohol pricing anyway, but if it must be done, then do it through the duty system. Apply duty to units of alcohol instead of to volume of drink. The extra money goes to the Treasury instead of to the retailer, and there’s no price-fixing necessary. Problem solved.

  • Heartless Curmudgeon

    Oh Gawd – not another pretentious ‘from the heart’ ‘speech’ by the H2B. Who’s he trying to kid? – or is this just another prep for huge increases in Alky tax – ‘for our own good of course’ – always for OUR good!

    The most dread words in the world: “I’m the Government – and I’m here to help you” – should be swapped for “You have put your trust in me, – I’m privileged to serve in the Government and I’m going to help you by restoring real money and savings, cutting VAT, Tax, Duty, Immigration, the EUSSR, Government waste, QUANGOs, ridiculous non-jobs in the NHS, Civil-Service, ‘Universities’ (pretentious polytechnics), the military, and Town Halls. We’re going to destroy wind farms and the stupid green taxes. And that’s just for starters!”

    Will we hear any of that? After two years of zilch?

    “Nein” – as Merkozy might say.

  • Scary Biscuits

    Cameron needs to go. He just doesn’t get free markets. He doesn’t understand that price controls *always* produce the opposite effect to the one intended.

    We have a credit shortage because the government is controlling interest rates and setting them artificially low. If they set alcohol prices artificially high they will making selling it even more attractive and the problem worse.

  • TomTom

    When will bars in The Palace of Westminster charge market rates ?

  • George Shepherd

    Triangulation in Action !!!

    On the one hand

    “nanny state, gone too far, let people make their own choices, Labour tried to interfere in people’s lives far too much…. we are the party of liberty and freedom”

    On the other hand

    “we have to get control of the situation, the booze culture has gone too far, Labour let our city centres get out of hand, it’s time to reclaim the streets on behalf of the law abiding majority”

    Cameron manages to keep a straight face in the midst of this nonsense

    This is Modern Politics

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Not this old chestnut again! If it could be solved by making a speech, Tony Blair would have done it. We don’t need another promise-all deliver-nowt empty bloody suit to go on about it, again, to no effect.

    Today’s story conflates binge-drinking with ongoing alcohol abuse problems. Maybe they overlap, but they are not the same thing. Binge-drinking could be solved by enforcing existing laws against public drunkenness. I suppose the first elected police boss to run on this will pretty soon be put in his place by the home office. We don’t enforce laws, we just think of new ones.

    The alcoholism problem? The cost to the NHS? Minimum pricing? Have we not been round the block on those? Who speaks for freedom?

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