Monday, 23 October 2017

Minimum pricing for alcohol - stupid and immoral in equal measure

The Welsh government has (having tiptoed back from banning e-cigs) decided that it's keen on introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol:
A law to set a minimum price for selling alcohol in Wales has been unveiled.

Ministers believe tackling excessive drinking could save a life a week and mean 1,400 fewer hospital admissions a year.

Pricing is seen as a "missing link" in public health efforts, alongside better awareness and treatment.

Under a 50p-a-unit formula, a typical can of cider would be at least £1 and a bottle of wine at least £4.69.

A typical litre of vodka, for example, would have to cost more than £20.

The Welsh Government has not yet decided what the price will be, however.
This policy is popular with the New Puritans and temperance campaigners who populate public health departments these days. And, sadly, politicians who should know better cluster around these officious fussbuckets thinking that 'clamping down on drinking' is, in some way, a good idea and popular.

But minimum unit pricing is, in equal measure, stupid and immoral. Here's why stupid:
Alex Loveland, a recovering alcoholic who supports people with dependency, is worried that it will not help them.

"They're going to try to get alcohol by any means necessary and I think it will put more strain on very underprivileged people," he said.
So here's a fellow who, I guess, knows a little bit about problem drinking. Imagine the typical alcoholic - faced with more expensive booze, what are they going to do? The idiot fussbuckets who are proposing a minimum unit price think this:
"The most substantial effects will be experienced by harmful and hazardous drinkers, who are more likely to consume cheaper and higher-strength alcohol products." 
Yes folks, these people think an alcoholic is going to drink less because the price goes up. You know, I've a feeling that addictive demand is pretty inelastic - just a guess but if I've a compulsive need for booze, I'm going to fail to feed the kids before I don't get that booze. The policy is stupid.

It doesn't make any difference how you look at this outcome, it is also immoral to propose a policy that has such an effect. To introduce any public policy that, by design, results in more risk and more harm for vulnerable people cannot be justified. Plenty of public policy (any examination of our benefits system over time shows this) has unintended and harmful negative affects but most of it is not harmful by design. Minimum unit pricing is intended to increase risk and harm among problem drinkers - it is its sole purpose. Or rather among those problem drinkers who can't afford £20 for a bottle of vodka, which I suspect is a minority of such drinkers.

Others will point out that this policy of targeting only cheaper drink is an attack on the less well off. On the poor old man who buys a couple of the cheapest cans to drink on Sunday afternoon while he watches the racing on the telly. Or the single mum on benefits with two kids who gets respite from them on a Thursday and celebrates with a bottle of Lambrini, some cheap snacks and reality TV.

Us better off folk will be fine. We'll still be able to afford malt whisky and craft beer. And we'll feel better - or so the public health nannies think - knowing we've dealt with the problem by making poor people pay more for their moderate drinking. As I said - stupid and immoral.



Dick Puddlecote said...


Anonymous said...

More on the same, some interesting recipes!