Musings From The Padded Cell

The Great Minimum Pricing Wheeze – Tyke Taverner May 2012

Did it gladden your heart recently to finally see some harmony between Chameleon Dave and Moribund Ed across the benches of the Commons? Following the announcement by the Nanny Coalition that it was now considering yet another tax, albeit dressed up as “good for us all” in the form of minimum pricing on cheap booze, both parties were in temporary harmony. This move, we are assured, will tackle the growing problems of alcohol abuse and violence in our city centres most weekends allegedly by making it prohibitively expensive, mainly for the young, to “pre-load” before a night out.

Almost simultaneously, Chameleon’s sidekick, Smug George, announced that his budget would include no changes to alcohol duties and moved on rapidly; this is simply because a circa 5% hike in duties was already rubber stamped – “not our fault” – and, once again, the price of a pint went up defying gravity whatever the strength of it, so to speak. Successive governments have treated the pub industry like a cash cow; it contributes some £19bn in duty and VAT per annum – around 2% of GDP. Since 2008, duty on beer has increased 42% and is now estimated at £1.05 per pint[1], which is 12 times the level in Germany;Britain’s drinkers are now paying 40 per cent of the entire EU duty bill, yet only drinking 13 per cent of the beer.

Trawling through various commentaries on the pricing impact of the new proposals it is impossible to see how these can be effective; they aim at the wrong target, and they miss that one, too. What do I mean? There is a common misconception that the young stay at home, at least until Casualty is finished, and sit consuming industrial sized bottles of industrial strength ciders and lagers bought for pennies from that friendly local shop; the same one they used to get their fags from when they were at primary school. Then they hit the town and, in an instant, are happy to pay close to a fiver a drink until they drop.

For a small minority this may be true but if Chameleon, Moribund or Smug ever spoke to the “yoof” they would find that they may well be pre-loading but because the core brands are so cheap anyway, and the new proposals will not change this, they can still drink at a fraction of the prices they will find later in the evening. Equally, young girls can pre-load on a £5 bottle of wine knowing they will pay close to the same for a single glass later in the evening; once again, Nanny’s proposals will not alter this.

The only way to curb the real life casualties is not by offering soft-soap policies, but to make the punishment fit the crime. Chameleon favours Booze Buses to treat drunken idiots – amazingly at the taxpayers’ expense – in addition to the armies of paramedics wasting their skills and braving the mindless minority. This is idiocy from the Head Nanny; there is an offence called drunk and disorderly and offenders need instant fines; a minimum pricing policy here of £100 would be effective, which would hit them in the pocket and, maybe, necessitate a few quieter weekends to follow.

In addition, for those whose irresponsible actions clog up the A&E wards later in the evening, I suggest the penalties be even more punitive. We have a National Health Service under considerable pressure; we seem to have a total disregard for what both our health and our law and order professionals should have to tolerate. The weekly carnage that has become the norm cannot carry on; it is high time people took some personal responsibility for their actions, which affect us all.

Unemployed or can’t pay, won’t pay? Ok, try some real community service; how about cleaning the streets the following weekend and watching those that can behave have a good time; time to pause for reflection maybe? Of course, there may well be a short-term impact on the courts; especially if the legal profession sees this as another potential gravy train: “M’Lord, my client’s basic human right is to behave like a drunken idiot”, but these people need to understand the consequences of their actions and not to be mollycoddled in a state-funded Booze Bus; I thought the Head Nanny was going to be tough on crime?

But is this the real problem area, grave as it is, in some city centres? Whilst the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that alcohol consumption is falling in theUK– pub beer sales dropped 3.4 per cent in 2011 (equivalent to 125 million pints) – one sector of society continues to quietly get ever more inebriated. According to the ONS it is the upper and middle classes where the real problems lie, in particular, middle-class women; wine consumption has increased five-fold since 1970 and liver disease is the only major cause of death in the UK that is still increasing.

A lot of this drinking is done behind closed doors and dealing with the consequences much further down the line is even more expensive. There is no quick fix here because it requires a shift in attitudes to alcohol across the whole of society; no amount of punitive taxation will solve this problem.

Regardless of whether these proposals do eventually become law – do not discount the combined lobbying powers of the supermarkets and the breweries forcing yet another U-turn from Chameleon (unlike his Great, Great Nanny) – they will have little impact on neither our streets or behind the curtains of Suburbia.

And what awaits the male of the species, desperate to escape the wine-sozzled wife? The comfort of a cold beer at the local will continue to be easy prey for Smug George; let us silently cry into our beer…assuming the local is still open, of course.

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  1. Paul Thompson says:

    Well said old bean. You should try and get it printed in the local rag!

  2. What the government needs to do is give adults the choice to smoke cannabis. That would reduce harm caused by alcohol to our society, the more availability of cannabis the less binge drinking generally occurs.

    Although you may see this as completely alien to your post its not.

    Its the same – it’s about not having a government not allowing you to enjoy yourself the way you see fit.

    It a person wants to smoke a joint after work or whilst playing chess let them! The same goes for having a beer – as long as your not damaging society it should be fine – there is no moral reason for stopping either things.

    The way things are going alcohol will be treated the same soon anyway – they we will be giving gangs money for beer as well as weed.

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