Alcohol minimum pricing should be this government’s first bold evidence-based drug policy

One of the most common arguments I read against the government control and regulation of the currently illegal drug markets is that we have so many problems with alcohol. Were cannabis for instance to be “legalised”, authors presume its use will increase and create new social problems to rival those that alcohol inflicts.The simple counter-argument employed by myself and other drug policy reformers is that alcohol is a very poorly regulated drug. Were any of the other currently illegal drugs to become regulated by the state, the alcohol model is one model it would be extremely unwise to replicate. Alcohol is aggressively marketed, education on its potential for harm is insufficient, it is available at prices as low as 12p per unit, and it is far too easy for children to get hold of.It is therefore very heartening to read of David Cameron’s apparent enthusiasm for a minimum price per unit of alcohol. This is a measure that the SNP government in Scotland have been trying to pass into law for some time, and that received the backing of the Scottish Liberal Democrats at our autumn conference. It is also supported widely within the healthcare and criminal justice professions, who recognise the potential for the burden of work that alcohol creates for them to be reduced.

There are serious concerns however that minimum pricing will impact upon the poorest and most vulnerable in society to a far greater extent than the rest, while lining the pockets of producers and retailers rather than raise much-needed tax revenues.

These concerns may well be unfounded. For example, in a 2 week 2009 Living Cost and Food survey only 29% of the household decile with the lowest expenditure spent money on alcohol, while 83% of the top decile did so. Likelihood of alcohol purchasing rose fairly steadily as you progress through the deciles. Alcohol is not a daily staple for the poorest in society. It is a luxury that the majority already sensibly choose to do without. Indeed the IFS regard minimum pricing as broadly progressive in its impact as a result.

If you factor in the likely behaviour changes of retailers in response to the measure, it’s quite possible the poorest who don’t drink will benefit even more. With the removal of discounting alcohol as a means of attracting customers into supermarkets, it is very likely that the supermarket price wars – that were thought to be partly responsible for November’s fall in inflation – will need to be entirely waged in the pricing of non-alcoholic beverages and groceries. Researchers project that those who drink moderately or not at all will see their grocery bills fall as a result of a minimum price for alcohol being set: “moderate drinkers should no longer be effectively subsidising the alcohol purchased by the harmful and hazardous group.”

On the issue of taxation versus minimum pricing, if minimum pricing is the most effective way of saving costs to government through policing or health expenditure then that is the route we should take. I’d take £1Bn in costs prevented over £1Bn in revenue gained if those prevented costs are for the resolution of criminal proceedings or traumatic injury or illness.

What is most important in this endeavour though is the impact the measure will have on the most vulnerable in our society. For those existing impoverished alcoholics who might see the cost of servicing their addiction double or treble, it is absolutely essential that we couple minimum pricing with effective investment in outreach and treatment services in order that their life doesn’t suddenly become an intolerable struggle. The short term pain of these individuals should hopefully be worth it for the number of people minimum pricing prevents from following them into addiction.

Perhaps the single most important effect of this policy will be on our children. There is a very strong correlation between the amount of money 15-16 year-olds have to spend each week and the amount they drink and the risks they take. Making the drinks they drink more expensive (and under-age drinkers share the “the cheaper the better” instincts of alcoholics) should significantly affect the incidence of dangerous drinking and offending by teenagers, and so impact upon the likelihood of them making a success of their lives.

One problem minimum pricing might struggle to overcome is European competition law, and it is here where the UK government has to take a principled stand. Dangerous drugs should not be regulated according to the standards of free market capitalism. Where strong scientific evidence suggests a nation’s citizens can be better protected from the harms of an addictive drug, that nation should have the right to take whatever measures the evidence indicates. Once this principle is established, we can kick on and challenge the drug conventions that restrict our ability to protect our citizens from the currently illegal drugs.

Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol have had it too easy for too long. We’ve taken great strides in protecting our citizens from Big Tobacco. Minimum pricing could start to turn the tide against Big Alcohol. Once we demonstrate that the harms caused by legal drugs can be effectively diminished through evidence-based policy, we can then take the fight to the criminals and terrorists of Big Illegal Drugs. It is a fact the government urgently needs to confront that we can only ever win the “War on Drugs” if they are legal. Only then can the policies of government have a significant moderating impact upon the market.

* Ewan Hoyle is a West Scotland list candidate for the Scottish Parliament election next May

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  • Richard Swales 30th Dec '11 - 2:42pm

    Alcohol is made by consenting adults, bought by consenting adults and drunk by consenting adults. If you wake up in the morning with the goal of inserting yourself into that situation and then you are the one with a problem. The most harmful addiction in the UK is politicians adddicted to telling people what to do.

  • Daniel Henry 30th Dec '11 - 3:07pm

    I’ve never understood how people equate and increase in price to being “told what to do”.

    I expect that most of us enjoy moderately priced alcohol and won’t even be affected by it. According to the evidence Ewan. presented in the article, the main group hit will be alcoholics and those buying on a pocket money budget.

    I wish people would save OTT. “assault on our freedoms” rhetoric for the real deal…

  • Moderate drinkers who bulk-buy alcohol when it’s reduced in price will suffer. I can accept the argument that health costs, in a system of aggregated social insurance, should be covered by taxation on alcohol. Though this is certainly a subsidisation by drinkers who do not drink to a health-damaging level, there is some level of uncertainty as to which drinkers will suffer ill-effects in their health. However, the argument for policing is more spurious. While drinking is used as an excuse for much terrible behaviour, the vast majority who consume alcohol, even in what would be considered large amounts do not act in a way which requires the attention of the police. This is not internalising an externality. It’s sending the bill to a group of people who share the same habit for a minority’s actions. Most drinkers should have no more responsibility for those who need policing than a teetotaller does.

    I fear that we’re looking at the best way for government to cover its costs in areas like policing (without levying them on the individuals who need policing) and not at which is the best option to take as maximises choice: both for individuals and for enterprises. In terms of the prices which supermarkets choose to sell their goods at, I resent much intervention. Supermarkets reduce prices on alcohol in competition with each other because it drives sales, because people choose to purchase. If driving down prices in non-alcoholic products is what consumers want, isn’t it what supermarkets will do? I don’t think most need a centralised instruction into how to profit and compete with one another.

    As for individuals: the move towards minimum pricing punishes two groups. People who purchase cheap alcohol but do not behave in the manner which others who purchase the same do, and people who bulk-buy alcohol. We shouldn’t regard cheap alcohols as a universal ill. People who buy cheap alcohol are not a hazardous group, they simply happen to contain individuals who are. This measure will affect them all, and I think Cameron’s ‘nudging’ of behaviour is something we should be against. We’re in danger of pooling people into groups based on shared purchases, rather than seeing them as individuals. In this case, also in danger of falling into the belief that alcohol is a cause of poor behaviour, rather than a cultural excuse.

    As for the point about young drinkers, doesn’t that show what I’m getting at? The amount they spend on alcohol relates closely to the amount of money they have to spend, meaning this move would only affect those who have less to spend. Affluent teens won’t have their behaviour nudged. It might reduce the amount of drinking by teenagers, but only those with parents in certain income brackets.

    I take your point about alcoholics, that is an issue which needs close attention. This is the best piece I’ve seen in support of MAP, by the way.

  • Minimum pricing seems more sensible than rises in duty, which never seem to provoke such vocal reactions:

    “General price increases were effective for reduction of consumption, health-care costs, and health-related quality of life losses in all population subgroups. Minimum pricing policies can maintain this level of effectiveness for harmful drinkers while reducing effects on consumer spending for moderate drinkers.”

    And as ever, I hope those who consider minimum pricing an unwarranted attack on our liberties find the total prohibition of many other drugs – some less harmful to individuals and society than alcohol – even more repellant.

  • Stephen, you are pushing the false dichotomy that cheap alcohol = irresponsible drinkers, while moderately priced alcohol = responsible drinkers. If I choose to spend the part of my salary that I can afford on cheap alcohol, but drink responsibly, how dare I be punished for the actions of another who uses the alcohol for a completely different sort of drinking?

  • @Guido/Paul you wouldn’t know a Liberal if one slapped you in the face (if only). This is about balancing the liberty of the individual against the liberty of the majority. Personally I come down in the case on the liberty of the individual as I see minimum pricing as illiberal and ineffective.

  • Liberalism is about the choice, even the choice of those people who want to waste their life. It’s good if then they would come back and throw their addictions away, but for this reason there are appropriate locals. Intervening in individual choices isn’t liberal at all, it’s a procedure of a nanny state and it’s an unjustifiable distortion of markets.

  • Richard Swales 30th Dec '11 - 4:53pm

    Banning the free exchange of alcohol for money at certain prices is telling people what to do. A third entity such as the state simply does not belong in that situation.

    Collective punishment of a group of people in advance of any crime is never legitimate. When a small minority of that group break a law then you punish them and them only.

    This story about UK alcohol culture is interesting

  • Richard Swales 30th Dec '11 - 4:54pm

    Sorry, first part of previous post is @Daniel Henry

  • Callum Leslie 30th Dec '11 - 5:05pm

    The ignorant answer of “we can’t do that, that’s illiberal” complete ignores that people are DYING, and if we fail to act then they will continue to. Now, if you want to argue it won’t work then that’s a different story, but all the medical expertise says that it will, and it certainly won’t do any harm. We have to try something.

  • Louise Shaw 30th Dec '11 - 5:17pm

    “On the issue of taxation versus minimum pricing, if minimum pricing is the most effective way of saving costs to government through policing or health expenditure then that is the route we should take.”

    Excuse me, where is it explained WHY minimum pricing is the most effective way of doing this?

    I’m mainly against minimum pricing as I can’t see why this is going to work – plus why, if we must do it don’t we follow the model that seems to be working for smoking – cutting down on where it is sold and taxing it out of existence?

  • Simon McGrath 30th Dec '11 - 5:46pm

    John Susrt Mill explained 150 years ago why these taxes are illiberal ” “Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means to not come up to the augmented price”,….. “To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition, and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable.”

  • No, it isn’t a nominalist question. If the State introduces minimum pricing, it justifies this action with the argument of prevention something bad (diseases, crimes and the like). But these bad things are of two kinds: a) caused by individual choices (like diseases); b) causes of illegal actions already considered illegal (like crimes). Now, for the first kind I think that it’s one of the most prominent liberal issue to safeguard individual choices (and if anyone doesn’t think so, well, let’s see the counter-argument); for the second there is already a legislation about and it regards law and order problems, so if there is a problem there, also the solution is there (and not in economic sectors).

  • So I totally agree with Simon and obviously John Stuart Mill ;).

  • The ignorant answer of “we can’t do that, that’s illiberal” complete ignores that people are DYING, and if we fail to act then they will continue to.”

    We could massively reduce road deaths by outlawing private ownership of cars. I look forward to you advocating such a policy.

  • James Blanchard 30th Dec '11 - 6:45pm

    Oh dear, oh dear.

    There are clearly many in the party who do not react to the classical liberal argument against the introduction of minimum pricing, but I wonder if many have thought through the effect this would have on family finances. The simple bottom line is that by introducing minimum pricing, cheap alcohol will go from being a loss-leader to a cash-cow for the supermarkets. This would mean that more cash from nearly a third of households in the bottom decile (your figures) and much more from households slightly above that group will flow in to Tesco’s coffers. For those households where drink is a problem this will not mean a reduction in spending on alcohol, it will mean a reduction on spending on other items – including spending on the kids. How do you justify this?

    To call this policy ‘evidence-based’ surely is a joke. Alcohol is more expensive across most of the rest of northern europe, but price rises have been shown to have done little to stop the problem drinking which is evident across the region. Meanwhile, you can only suppose that minimum pricing will make other foods cheaper, whilst fitting in a ridiculous call that ‘something must be done for the children’. Here’s an idea, if parents are giving their 15-16 year olds so much money that they can get drunk, parents should give their kids less money, although I don’t believe that getting drunk at 15 has prevented many people from ‘making a success of their lives’.

    To cast aside liberalism is bad enough, to do so in a way that will make the rich richer and the poor poorer is worse, to do so without evidence really is unforgivable. Furthermore, this stance is at odds with our sensible, liberal and evidence-based policies on illegal drugs.

    Personally, I choose to drink on a reasonably regular basis and occasionally to excess. Since my tastes and wallet stretch to what might be called ‘the good stuff’, I am unlikely to be affected by minimum pricing though. That is, unless supermarkets decide that their increased profits on the previously cheap stuff justify stocking more of it at the expense of the better stuff. In which case, we all lose.

  • Louise Shaw 30th Dec '11 - 7:28pm

    James Blanchard – excellent case. I think you should turn it into a “right to reply” piece against this nonsense policy. I’m not as attached to the liberal argument as some on this thread, tho I do see it, but I still repeat these two questions from the pragmatic standpoint:

    1. Where has it been proven to work?
    2. Why isn’t tax better than minimum pricing?

  • Richard Swales 30th Dec '11 - 7:48pm

    @Callum “People DYING”

    If you wait long enough the survival rate for human beings is 0 percent, anyway. It’s not for you to decide how they are allowed to go. People know it’s unhealthy but the don’t care.

    @Nicola “I think people who are saying it is illiberal are more libertarian than liberal.”

    I tend to avoid what I call Dungeons & Dragons politics* but this time I am tempted to ask anyone who wants to answer, that if liberal means hiding the key to the drinks cabinet then what is the difference between the statist and liberal approach?

    *by this I mean analysing problems and solutions not in terms of right and wrong, effective and ineffective but in terms of what we should believe as liberals, conservatives, socialists, greens or libertarians, similar to players in a role-playing game trying to work out “what would a Hobgoblin do in this situation”. This kind of thinking seems to be rampant in the other parties.

  • James Blanchard 30th Dec '11 - 8:20pm

    @Louise Thanks- who do I contact?

  • >There is a very strong correlation between the amount of money 15-16 year-olds have to spend each week and the amount they drink and the risks they take.

    When did it become legal for 15-year-olds to buy alcohol? Instead of raising prices for everyone, how about enforcing the laws we already have?

    The problem in Britain isn’t price: it’s the culture that somehow downing copious quantities of alcohol is big and clever. Bit of education at an early age might be a better approach: something like the Wings to Fly drugs prevention play performed in junior schools by older children in South Wales, perhaps.

  • Its perfectly reasonable to be a liberal and believe that markets need rules to avoid them being distorted. The market for beer is being distorted by the big 5 selling beer as a loss leader. Cases of beer are being sold at a £10 loss – that is about £2000 on a typical pallet of beer. Off licences, pubs and clubs can’t compete with that – big brewers are shifting capacity from the on trade to the off trade and off licences and pubs in particular are closing. You can make minimum pricing about whatever you want, protecting the pubs as community centres, reducing binge drinking and its associated costs, even heading off a future where with the competition and consumer choice severely shrunken, supermarkets are able to make huge profits on beer. For me this is not about a nanny state, this is about curbing the destructive power of the supermarkets to annihilate other markets at will and then whack prices up later.

  • Daniel Henry 30th Dec '11 - 10:17pm

    I thought that was a really unfair summary Joe.
    Ewan laid out several arguments and you’ve not addressed any of them.

  • Daniel Henry 30th Dec '11 - 10:41pm

    Which of his premises do you reject?
    If you specify which claims you suspect he lacks evidence, perhaps he can provide his sources.

  • Andrew,

    The implication being that the tax imposed actually does fall on the individuals imposing the external costs. In some situations, these hypothecated taxes work quite well. For example, if you use a duty on fuel to raise money for road maintenance, you are broadly placing the charge on people who use the roads. Even more so in the case of using such a duty to deliver action intended to combat climate change, because the amount of fuel used increases the environmental damage.

    However, in the case of drinking, it’s much shakier. As I’ve said, I’m willing to accept some of the argument as to the cost of treating alcohol-related diseases, even though it penalises those who drink a healthy amount, because there is a relative uncertainty as to who suffers from alcohol-related illness.

    In the case of other costs that the government wishes to bring to bear on consumers of alcohol, like policing, the case gets even worse. The vast majority of people do not deserve to be burdened with such a cost proportionately to how much they consume, rather than their earnings, because they have no more responsibility for the requirement to police such people than anyone who doesn’t drink. Simply for the fact that I share a habit with someone who levies a financial cost on the state, am I to pay for their actions? Alcohol does not cause people to require policing, the way in which they behave does. For which I am no more responsible than anyone else.

    We’re not just asking ‘problem drinkers’ to pay, we’re asking everyone who drinks to pay. In this case, even worse than a progressively increased % tax on alcohol, we’re asking only those who can afford to least to pay, who are most frugal with their purchases.

    Want an evidence-based policy on alcohol? As Graeme says, look at other countries, and the way their citizens behave when inebriated. Alcohol is not to blame for all social costs which are popularly associated with it.

  • Minimum pricing contradicts the evidence (countries such as France have far cheaper wine and far fewer alcohol related problems) and contradicts fairness (why should the costs be forced disproportionately on to those least able to pay?).

    At least with taxatation the cost to the health service is (on average) proportional to the volume consumed by the individual, which is in turn proportional to the tax. With minimum pricing, the cost is regressive in the strict economic definition – those on the lowest incomes are disproportionately punished- the majority of whom will be responsible drinkers who in no way deserve to be punished by such ill-founded nonsense.

    This just smacks of blaming the poor for the ills of society. It is bullying. It is as far from evidence, fairness and liberalism as any policy can get.

  • It probably will work as suggested by the quote to conclude this factsheet (factsheet itself is worth a read):
    ‘There is ample evidence that at the population level, alcohol consumption is
    responsive to price…many studies have concluded that heavier drinkers are more
    responsive to price than non-heavy drinkers. Other studies indicate that there is an
    inter-relation between price and income, with young males on lower incomes being
    more susceptible to price elasticity than those on higher incomes. However there
    are still considerable gaps in the evidence….’

    There are only so many gaps you can fill without actually trying out a policy and seeing if it works. If the vast majority of the available evidence points to a policy being effective in achieving its stated goals then there comes a point where it is irresponsible to wait longer in the hope of more evidence being provided.

    If there is evidence that minimum pricing won’t work then please do link to it. The more evidence the better in helping people come to a sensible conclusion that isn’t guided solely by ideology, whether penned by Mill, Laws or others.

    I’ll write more in the morning.

  • Richard Swales 31st Dec '11 - 7:13am

    @Daniel Henry
    When I was younger I used to drink to excess most days of the week. Now I don’t so often because I don’t want to. The most wonderful thing about being a human being, rather than a machine or an animal, is that we have the ability to look at ourselves and decide to make changes. The premise of Ewan’s that I disagree with is his unstated premise that there is in fact no difference between human beings and animals, and therefore they need rational masters, such as Ewan Hoyle, to decide for them. This ignores, of course, that for politicians, moving the boundary between the public and personal is itself an addictive behaviour and last year’s dose is never strong enough for this year.

  • Simon McGrath 31st Dec '11 - 8:17am

    “James Blanchard
    Posted 30th December 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
    @Louise Thanks- who do I contact?”

    You can contact LDV at the ‘write for us’ tab at the top of the page.

  • @Ewan
    The ‘factsheet’ you provided is from a lobbying group, ‘the Institute of Alcohol Studies’ and only provides one actual reference to a peer-reviewed study, which is about the effects of decreasing the tax rate on alcohol in Finland in 2004 (claiming the decrease in taxation led to a <10% increase in sudden, alcohol-related mortalitity). That study was not about the introduction of minimum alcohol pricing. As such, you have provided NO evidence of anything.

    Can you please explain why you think that hitting people on low incomes is (a) justified in the moral sense or (b) can be justified, in the absence of evidence, by a rational argument that links poverty with alcohol abuse (Presumably, you think there is a link between poverty and alcohol abuse – hence the reason why you wish to target this particular group.)?

    How many deaths will result from the increased demand for bootleg alcohol? What will be the size of the increase in the black market for alcohol and what will be the loss to the exchequer in tax revenue? How many shopkeepers will lose their livelihoods to the black market? How much will the size of the black market for controlled drugs increase as the result of minimum pricing and what will be the health effects of the poor turning to cheaper, illegal drugs?

    This is what happens when the poor can't buy well-regulated, sensibly-priced, legal alcohol:

    Do you really care for the poor?

  • Andrew Lansley is not well informed:
    ‘….My problem with a minimum price, well I have two problems. One is it’s regressive, so there are perfectly normal families who just don’t happen to have much money who like to buy cheap beer or cheap wine. Should they be prevented? No, I don’t think so and if you put in a minimum price, one of the journalists calculated that if you set it at 50p a unit it would add £600 million to the profits of retailers and drinks manufacturers which doesn’t seem to me to be the right thing to do in these circumstances.’

    It is not regressive. The IFS calculate a rice in the price of alcohol is in fact broadly progressive:
    “Given that worse-off households
    are less likely to buy alcohol, it is not surprising that the impact of the
    price rise across all households looks, if anything, broadly progressive.”

    Also the large amount of money thought likely to be transferred from consumers to producers and retailers is likely to be much diminished as consumers reject the poor quality alcohol that would be highly profitable. No one will continue to buy white ciders for their flavour after they triple in price. When supermarkets are having price wars which are thought to contribute to dips in inflation, the “profits” are instead likely to be passed on to the consumer in the form of cheaper groceries.

    It is estimated that 25% of the adult population drink to harmful or hazardous levels. If overall food and drink spend reduces for the other 75% as a result of this measure then it is a progressive, relatively well targeted measure that should have its desired effect in reducing harmful and hazardous drinking.

    Off-sales alcohol has become an awful lot cheaper in the last 50 years, and use has soared in the same time period. While average regular drinkers might not incur costs to society through criminal behaviour or illness, their level of productivity and number of sick days are likely to be damaging to the economy.

    @Richard: Heroin and guns have the same relationship to consenting adults as you describe for alcohol. Just as guns create harm, alcohol contributes to an enormous amount of violence in our society. This measure targets domestic violence especially, and is enthusiastically supported by the police as a result. It also targets the public drinking of youths and associated antisocial behaviours, which is a major source of fear for many of this nation’s citizens.

    @Mike: Young drinkers, even those who are at the wealthier end of the scale, are still much poorer than the average adult, and likelier to drink cheap alcohol. Their behaviour will be affected by this measure.
    If you drink moderately, as I state in the piece, the extra cost of your alcohol will likely be offset by lower prices for the other items in your shopping basket. If higher costs do cause you to drink less, you might even be happier and more productive. I know I’m less productive the next day even after drinking moderately the night before.

    This measure isn’t removing people’s freedom to drink alcohol. It is encouraging them to drink less of it. It will only negatively affect those who drink more than is healthy. They will enjoy the freedom that greater sobriety and a clearer head in the morning brings. The rest of us will enjoy the greater freedom from domestic violence, vandalism, litter in the form of vomit, employees letting you down by phoning in sick, freedom from injurious and fatal alcohol-induced accidents, the freedoms that lower taxes or better services bring as money isn’t spent on policing or medical or psychiatric care. There are a great many freedoms in this world that could be enhanced by this measure that are far more important than the freedom to drink cheap booze. I will support any government that prioritises freedoms in an appropriate manner.

    A duty per unit would not target problem drinkers and teenagers as effectively as a minimum price. There is a case for say a 30p per unit duty that would increase the price of the cheapest drinks to the same level a minimum price does, but it is likely to be very politically unpopular. It would add around £5 to a bottle of spirits and 40p to a pint of beer in a pub.

    Cheap alcohol, far from being a cash cow for the supermarkets, will no longer exist. That is what minimum pricing means. White cider and own brand vodkas will cease to be economically viable. Customers purchasing at the minimum price will want value for money. This value will now have to come from flavour, not alcohol content. In a competitive market, any excess money that is gained from not loss-leading on booze and higher margins, will probably be directed into loss-leading on non addictive substances and lowering the prices of other items.

    Getting drunk as a teenager has affected a great many people’s abilities to make a success of their lives. 76% of young offenders in Scotland admitted being drunk at the time of their offence.
    Add to that unplanned pregnancies, injury through accident and school work suffering and I think I’m on solid ground.

    I have now provided some sources you may find interesting. I will forgive you if you don’t provide evidence to contradict them because I’m nice like that. The minimum pricing policy is consistent with my vision for the regulation of the currently illegal drugs and our drug policy, and I should know as I was the driving force behind it.

    If supermarkets try to sell crap booze at the minimum price, their customers will vote with their feet. I’d advise you don’t submit an article to Lib Dem Voice until you’ve read more evidence and thought it through. Once you have done so, I will of course be interested in reading your thoughts.

    Minimum pricing can change drinking culture by massively affecting the accessibility of drink at a young age and so encouraging teenagers to entertain themselves with other pursuits. I would obviously like the accessibility of other pursuits to increase at the same time. For those with already ingrained attitudes towards alcohol the effects will be slower, but I hope still significant. Alcohol minimum pricing should not be implemented in isolation. We do also need to employ more effective educational interventions, and the Strengthening Families Program shows a lot of promise in this:

    I recommend you read up on the price elasticity of alcohol consumption. I have to write a submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee on drug policy, so will try to disengage from this debate in the meantime. Sorry, would love to write more.

  • @Mike: Young drinkers, even those who are at the wealthier end of the scale, are still much poorer than the average adult, and likelier to drink cheap alcohol. Their behaviour will be affected by this measure.
    If you drink moderately, as I state in the piece, the extra cost of your alcohol will likely be offset by lower prices for the other items in your shopping basket. If higher costs do cause you to drink less, you might even be happier and more productive. I know I’m less productive the next day even after drinking moderately the night before.

    Of course they’re much poorer than the average adult, but how many responsibilities do they have? Are you honestly arguing that there’s not a relationship between parental income and the availability of moderately-priced alcohol to teens?

    As I’ve said, I don’t think we need this sort of intervention. What if, for example, because of minimum pricing, some of the alcoholic drinks which are currently cheap are no longer produced and sold on to shops? That certainly seems like a likely outcome: why would someone buy something which has just been raised to the price of a better, more expensive drink? Then the supermarket is making no extra revenue with which to subsidise other products, which was always likely.

    On the other hand, if the supermarket do wish to continue to stock the items which have now had their market price distorted, the producer will simply sell it to them for a higher price. Tesco makes the same profit as it previously did in such a case. What gets subsidised them?

    This measure certainly is limiting people’s freedom to drink alcohol. If I raise the cost of something which someone enjoys, I am limiting their freedom. It’s not an encouragement to do anything, it’s a discouragement. They already have the freedom to enjoy a sober head in the morning. That’s their choice. If it’s now my only choice, how am I more free?

    Vandalism, litter and domestic violence are not caused by alcohol. The implication being that if you simply drink enough alcohol you engage in such behaviours. It’s the demonisation of a substance that is used in the UK to justify a great many ills, but is responsible for none of them. What business it is of the government’s that people call in sick from over-drinking, unless the government is their employer, I have no idea. You’ve conceded yourself that in terms of the people most addicted to alcohol, all this will mean is a rapid expansion of the price of their addiction, which they’ll be forced to find a way to pay for.

    And we won’t be free from any of it, of course, if the person engaging in the actions has enough money to avoid minimum pricing in the first place, will we? It’s a behavioural adjustment through government which is directed at only the worst off. No thanks. It seems the difference between you and I is that I want to let people ‘prioritise’ their own freedoms.

  • @Mike
    “Of course they’re much poorer than the average adult, but how many responsibilities do they have? Are you honestly arguing that there’s not a relationship between parental income and the availability of moderately-priced alcohol to teens?”


    You’ve rebutted the “more money to the supermarkets” argument quite well. But supermarkets also loss-lead on alcohol and need to recoup the money with higher prices for other items. Loss-leading would have to happen on other items as I’ve explained before.

    You are focusing entirely on the freedom of the individual and neglecting the freedoms of other individuals who might suffer for the exercise of that individual’s freedoms. In restricting the freedom of the individual to consume alcohol, it’s quite likely we are also improving their welfare. Alcohol is not a nutrient essential for life, it is a depressant drug and a poison that gives temporary pleasure, but long term pain. By restricting people’s access to alcohol we are for the most part doing them a favour, and doing society a favour too. Yes it is a blunt instrument, and yes the wealthy will not be as affected, but poorer people already are less likely to purchase alcohol due to its cost, and more likely to die from excessive consumption. “People who live in the most deprived areas of Scotland are 5 times more likely to die an alcohol-related death than those in the least deprived areas.” So are we trying to get poor people to drink less? Bluntly yes we are.

    I don’t quite understand your argument that drinking less doesn’t necessarily mean less harm. On a population level of course it does.
    I have provided links that answer your points I think.

  • Adam Fleming 31st Dec '11 - 5:48pm

    I’d like to address something other posters seem to have skipped over when I’ve scanned the rest of the comments.

    “For those existing impoverished alcoholics who might see the cost of servicing their addiction double or treble, it is absolutely essential that we couple minimum pricing with effective investment in outreach and treatment services in order that their life doesn’t suddenly become an intolerable struggle.”

    I know an impoverished alcoholic, he’s my neighbour in the bock of flats I live in. I’d guess that Ewan, from the above, probably doesn’t. He had a stroke last year, that along with a few other bits I know about him make me strongly suspect that outreach and treatment services have already spoken to him. He still has a bottle of cider or a can with him and already resorts to stealing in order to ensure his addiction is met. One of his friends died recently from alcohol related disease, too.

    You see, Ewan, you’re making the assumption that the alcoholic would love to stop drinking if only he or she had some support from the rest of us. I’m sorry, but that’s not what they always want to do, you know? How do you propose we solve this? If we force the alcoholic into treatment, how do we stop them going straight to the local off license to buy a bottle of cider when they get out? If we leave them be, are you going to be happy when they start commiting crimes to get their next fix or worse yet, die from withdrawal?

  • Richard Swales 31st Dec '11 - 10:48pm

    @Andrew Tennant “1) Increasing the price of something by internalising the external costs is not a ban on someone doing something – instead it’s a logical, economically liberal thing to do.
    @George Payne “I think the argument that the policy is “collective punishment” is ridiculous. You could argue that by not implementing the policy that is also collective punishment, because it is the taxpayer who has to pay the costs of binge drinking on the NHS and the police.”

    i accept argument 1) but. as for the police (and hospital costs from fighting), we are choosing between a) Society pays collectively, b) People who happen to share a hobby with the troublemakers pay or c) The individuals arrested pay for the prosecution as in Belgium. Sorry, but choosing option b) over a) or c) looks like collective punishment of a group you don’t like.
    With the NHS (liver disease etc) the argument for action is stronger. In some ways I don’t see why, if it is not acceptable to charge the person who comes in with a liver complaint for his own treatment, why it is acceptable to charge his co-hobbyists rather than society as a whole. Although, basically I agree a per-unit tax on alcohol would make more sense in this regard.

    @Ewan Hoyle “Heroin and guns have the same relationship to consenting adults as you describe for alcohol. Just as guns create harm, alcohol contributes to an enormous amount of violence in our society. This measure targets domestic violence especially, and is enthusiastically supported by the police as a result. It also targets the public drinking of youths and associated antisocial behaviours, which is a major source of fear for many of this nation’s citizens.”

    The difference with guns, at least from the point of view of a town-dweller, is that guns are made by consenting adults, and sold to consenting adults to be pointed at non-consenting beings, they don’t have much other legitmate use. Target shooting is really about the same thing (if it is really just about “training one’s skill” then why not play quoits instead?). There is no freedom to “go equipped”. (In country areas I know this is all seen slightly differently). What is your view on guns anyway? I hope you realise that the only way the state can police “crimes of consent” is by being willing to be not the protector (i.e. reacting to violence against citizens) but by willing as a last resort to be the initiator of violence against those who defy it. Put another way, you can only insert yourself into these situations if you have more guns and fists behind you than anyone else and you are willing to use them not to protect but to control.

    In the case of Heroin then I have no problem with legalisation. That you don’t want other people to take it doesn’t give you a claim on my money to pay police to try to stop people buying it (as it’s illegal this is usually from the Taliban).

    As for domestic violence then the answer lies in prosecution, (and getting divorced) and not in collective punishment. My understanding is that in your country there are large increases in domestic violence when Rangers play Celtic. Is that the fault of the clubs or the other fans? Absolutely not. We are not animals and we are responsible for our own choice and actions. Perhaps you also have a plan to make Rangers and Celtic play in separate leagues for the fans’ own good?

    I don’t accept your premise that you are entitled to decide what’s best for others anyway, but you seem not to have thought about the following:
    In the other thread you also mention that unclean below-price vodka would be immediately identifiable as dodgy in some way as it would be known that a bottle of vodka shouldn’t cost below X.XX pounds. This is true, but the dodginess could also be that it was being resold illegally after being brought over from France (this happens already), so that doesn’t mean people wouldn’t want to buy it. The evidence from Russia is that increasing prices creates a market for unofficially sourced alcohol, with the risks that entails.
    Secondly, if there is a larger margin for brewers and/or supermarkets on alcohol, would this not increase the amount of money available to market it, affect aisle space allocation etc?

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