Monday, 24 January 2011

There's no evidence that it works but let's put up booze prices anyway!


The Government in an especially populist move plans to impose some form of minimum price for alcohol so as to address the problems of "binge drinking" (an almost entirely mythical pastime). Here are the headlines of the Home Office's research assessment for this policy:

• On balance the evidence shows that increases in alcohol prices are linked to decreases in harms related to alcohol consumption. However, alcohol price is only one factor affecting levels of alcohol consumption with individual, cultural, situational and social factors also influential.
• Available evidence suggests that increases in alcohol prices tend to be associated with reductions in crime. However, this relationship is not straightforward and linear and the evidence base is not able to support a causal relationship between alcohol pricing and crime.
• When considering individual crime types rather than overall crime, there is a larger evidence base for a link between alcohol price and violence than for other crime types. The balance of this evidence tends to support an association between increasing alcohol price and decreasing levels of violence. No firm conclusions can be drawn around links between alcohol pricing and other specific crime types as the evidence is limited and some findings are inconclusive.
• It is important to recognise that inconclusive evidence or an absence of evidence does not necessarily mean that increasing alcohol price does not impact on particular types of crime. Rather, this indicates that there is a lack of robust evidence to allow a judgement to be made either way.
• Focus groups, designed to test reactions to pricing policies, reported an overall consensus of respondents not wanting to see an increase in the price of alcohol. There was conflict between a belief that only large price increases would have an impact on crime and disorder and a reluctance to be subject to such price increases.
• The modest evidence available on workplace productivity indicates a negative correlation with alcohol consumption (rather than price per se) but this evidence is not able to support a causal relationship for a link with alcohol pricing.
• Overall the research literature supports an established association between alcohol consumption and many negative health outcomes and the balance of research finds that increases in alcohol prices are linked to decreases in these health harms.

So the research doesn't show that minimum pricing has any effect - other than a marginal health impact -  and people don't want the Government to put prices up. Yet that's what they propose to do!

And who does it hurt most? Let me tell you.

We're at the super-market checkout and there's an old bloke in the queue ahead of us. He has some food items plus three cans of cheap lager that he got off the bin end shelf. To pay he scrabbled around in his purse to get together the money. Now I suppose he might be an eccentric multi-millionaire but he's more likely to be an old bloke without much money who lives on his own and likes a beer or two while watching telly on a Sunday. He's the person the Government is punishing with their stupid policy - not the so-called 'binge-drinker' and certainly not those dreadful middle-class boozers who are killing themselves with Pinot Grigio and Cab Sav!

Sometimes it's enough to make you cry!


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