Friday, 3 September 2010

Mixed Messages

I usually don't tackle problem drinking on this blog, as others such as Tyson and Curmudgeon do it so much better, but I will give it a go for once. It seems to me that our politicians are getting extremely muddled on alcohol. Did I say "getting?" Of course I should be saying they "have got", or if I was American, "have gotten" extremely confused.

As Tyson points out in his blog, minimum pricing isn't the answer to Britain's alcohol problem, if problem there be. From my point of view, reducing overall consumption might well be though. So what do we hear today? We hear from the British Beer and Pub Association that alcohol consumption in 2009 saw the sharpest year-on-year decline since 1948. The 6% drop was the fourth annual decline in five years.

Despite our alleged propensity to drink too much, we consume less than the EU average and 13% less alcohol than in 2004. So the continual banging on about over indulgence is actually having the desired effect. We are, as a whole, drinking less every year and repeating our drinking less year on year. If you like to put it another way, the messages are getting through. This sits rather oddly with minimum pricing which will not affect the behaviour of those with a problem. The general trend is down, so maybe those that like to tax the poor out of a much needed drink, might like to turn their attentions on those that are actually causing themselves harm?

That of course would mean looking at ways to tackle the actual problem rather than tar all drinkers with the same brush. It would mean looking a lot more closely at a lot of very complex issues, to which there is unlikely to be a simple answer. Fat chance of doing that. That's too difficult. Better simply to jack the price up for everyone and put windfall profits into the big supermarkets, who some would say, are guilty of causing much of the availability of cut price drink and therefore the problem, in the first place. From the pub goer's point of view, this is a superficially attractive solution, but then again, I believe the Trojan Horse was a bit of a looker too. Don't be fooled. This is thin end of the wedge stuff.

An interesting side snippet; in 2009, the UK ale market increased its market share of all beers for the first time since the 1960s. Hooray!


Cooking Lager said...

Fair points, well made Tandy.

But if all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

Problem drinking, especially kids in A&E is related to culture & attitudes to alcohol and quite complex to resolve.

Price is easy and simple.

Paul Garrard said...

Cooking Lager is so right. I've always maintained that we don't have a drink problem in this country. We have social problems, and no one wants to address those.

Curmudgeon said...

Indeed – the problem is not that we drink too much on average, but that in some respects we have an unhealthy drinking culture, which if anything the current anti-drink hysteria only makes worse, a point made by this old article from the Observer. It is moderate, responsible drinking that is falling, not problem drinking.

RedNev said...

This is a topic I have written about several times. When I worked on crisis loans in the DSS, people came in who were clearly drunk, often in the morning. In the worst instances, they failed to feed themselves properly, their clothes were often rags and not particularly clean and their household bills weren't being paid, because virtually every penny of their benefits was going on alcohol.

Minimum pricing will not put such drinkers off, although it might turn them to crime to feed their problem. I can't see why the mega-rich supermarkets should have increases in profits that they have done absolutely nothing to earn. Minimum pricing will not solve problem drinking and will make rich people even richer. But that's what most politicians aspire to achieve nowadays, so that when they retire from the Commons, they get lucrative non-jobs on the boards of businesses their policies have favoured.

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