The weekend debate: Should we end the bargain booze bonanza?

Here’s your starter for ten in our weekend slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

Just in time to kill everyone’s new year buzz David Cameron has announced government plans to introduce minimum alcohol pricing in England, similar to recent proposals by the Scottish government.

The details are still to be confirmed but the proposed system could stop the sale of alcohol at below 40p to 50p a unit in shops and supermarkets and cost drinkers up to £700 million a year.

Those in favour, point to the potential health benefits and recent figures suggest that a minimum price of 50p could prevent over 2000 premature deaths.

So, is this a wrong and illiberal policy impinging on our freedom to drink and be merry or is it an important step towards tackling the worst problem drinking?

Either way I for one will be *hic* stocking up on Lambrini while I can… happy new year everyone!

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Simon McGrath 31st Dec '11 - 9:53am

    A typical Tory policy – costs the poor money while hardly affecting the better off,and justified with a patronising nanny state logic that wants to punish the many because a few people drink too much. Oh and with no evidence it will make any difference anyway.

    The really amazing thing is some Lib Dems actually support it!

  • Andrew Duffield 31st Dec '11 - 10:07am

    It is not a function of government to set the price of anything.

  • 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. 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.”

    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.

  • Simon McGrath 31st Dec '11 - 10:40am

    “It is estimated that 25% of the adult population drink to harmful or hazardous levels.”
    please give us a source for this absurd statistic

  • Alcohol is not an essential ingredient to our financial or heath’s well being. Tax it through the roof for all I care but bring down the cost of energy for the old. After that, reinvest the extra revenue in economic growth. Rule number 1 for me in 2012, if I don’t need it, I don’t buy it. As for politics, not really interested ’till my personal finances are back in my control.

  • considering that alcohol is cheaper in France (calling wine here cheap makes me want to laugh, I’d have to pay 3-4 times more at least here to get the same quality..) yet has less of an alcohol problem (I’m not saying none), the price argument is flawed, it’s attitude that’s the problem.

    For the regressive argument: the products that will be affected most are the very low end (high strength beers, cheap cider).. that mostly the poorest drink (because you don’t drink that crap if you can afford more).

    Also isn’t it likely to push it in the black market? (we’ve seen it with cigarettes).

  • funnyly, found this just after I posted about black market:

  • Mark Inskip 31st Dec '11 - 3:47pm

    @Simon McGrath
    “It is estimated that 25% of the adult population drink to harmful or hazardous levels.”
    please give us a source for this absurd statistic

    I’m not sure what Ewan’s source is but certainly for Scotland the data is available and derived from the Scottish Health Survey ( SHeS) 2008. This showed an estimated 30% of men and 20% of women with a hazardous weekly alcohol consumption. Figures for different age groups varied significantly, with particularly high figures for 16-25 year olds and the lowest figures for 75 years or older.

    The technical definition of hazardous alcohol use is defined as drinking above a level that may cause harm in the future, but is not currently causing clear evidence of harm. For practical purposes this means for adult men exceed four units a day or 21 units per week and for adult women exceeding three units a day or 14 units in a week.

    I agree its a surprising high figure, though don’t see why it would be called absurd.

  • Mark Inskip 31st Dec '11 - 4:07pm

    Will this be the same France in which alcohol related diseases are the second most avoidable cause of death. Or the same France where the number of young people ages 15 to 24 hospitalized in a serious inebriated condition rose 50% from 2004 to 2007. Or the same France which speaks of the “biture express”?

  • @Sandra
    Spotting suspicious vodka will be a lot easier after minimum pricing if it is priced below the minimum price level. I discuss the difficulties of criminal alcohol supply on Mark Thompson’s blog here:

  • Don Lawrence 31st Dec '11 - 6:05pm

    Seems a good idea to me. What is being done in essence is that Alcohol vendors are to be prevented from selling booze as a loss leader.

  • Roger Fisher 2nd Jan '12 - 3:22am

    Whats actually trying to be achieved here? Go back to Resale Price maintenance? Increase tax and duty revenues? Penalise all for the sake of those who don’t know when or care to stop? Many Towns and Cities have public “no drinking” areas and by laws.Whats the figures for convictions against these issues or even drunk and disorderly which most people who do drink to excess and beyond would fall into before they fall into the gutter or A and E departments?

  • peter tyzack 2nd Jan '12 - 5:54pm

    crazy ideas always prompt the best discussions.. It is not the job of Govt to set the price of anything, not if we believe in a market economy. High prices don’t deter drug takers, and if we legalised all drugs the theory is consumption, and associated crime, and costs to NHS would all reduce. Apply that theoretical approach to alcohol and clearly the idea of a minimum price is barking. Politicians always seem to go for the symptoms to get the headlines with their friends in the media, but the solution is often more subtle, or even off the wall..
    I would start by tightening up on the licensing of retailers, ie withdraw alcohol licenses from all supermarkets(not sure how you define) This would put the sale of alcohol back on the high street where the small shopkeeper would be able to compete again and, being more community based(generally), would have more chance of regularising the excessive consumption of a few.
    Then I would have a look at all the TV soaps, which all show activity based around a pub. As one who drinks ‘socially’ I haven’t been in a pub in ages, and I certainly have never used the term ‘my local’.

  • Mark Inskip 2nd Jan '12 - 9:06pm

    @peter tyzack
    In one sentence you are stating a believe in the market economy, then a couple of sentences later you are looking to distort the market by preventing the sale of alcohol by supermarkets. And by the way what is and isn’t a supermarket? Is the village Co-Op a supermarket for example?

  • Kevin Colwill 3rd Jan '12 - 12:47am

    Came to this one rather late, you know how it is, bit the worse for wear after New Year…”cup of kindness yet” and all that.
    The thing all you wannabe free market theorists are forgetting (maybe they didn’t mention it in your Orange books) is that businesses don’t much care for real competition and will always look to take the wee wee and create as near a monopoly or monopsony as they can.
    The booze market has both elements- Limited suppliers at one level (try being a village pub with low turnover and see how the suppliers treat you) and limited buyers at another level (try being a small producer getting your products onto the shelves of a leading supermarket).
    Below cost discounting has nothing to do with free market competition and everything to do with trying to exploit a competitive advantage. You orange book types should be all for banning it.

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