Seeing how the near obsession of government with controlling our lives shows no sign of abating – something to do while avoiding tackling the real economic issues – I thought that I’d look at the evidence in favour of minimal alcohol pricing to save us from ourselves. Happily Allister Heath has done the demographic spadework:
Many people drink too much. The chaos caused by excessive consumption is disgusting, and the health effect on many binge drinkers can be heart-breaking. But this kind of state paternalism is not the answer. It is a myth that alcohol consumption keeps soaring: it has actually dropped 12 per cent between 2004 and 2011, with the per capita consumption of pure alcohol falling from 9.5 litres to 8.3 litres, according to HMRC. The proportion of 16-24 years olds drinking at least once a week collapsed between 1998 and 2010: from 71 per cent to 48 per cent for men; from 62 per cent to 46 per cent for women, according to the NHS. Binge drinking has also slumped, even if it doesn’t feel that way on a Friday night. The proportion of adults who drank in the last week is down substantially over the past decade. So why suddenly slap this deeply illiberal minimum price on alcohol? As the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out, poorest households will fare worst.…This government, like its predecessor, has been astonishingly illiberal in all sorts of areas, restricting individuals’ freedom to choose or to keep their own money.
So, despite all the hype, the problem is wildly exaggerated. Like most normal people, The Knife enjoys a bit of alcohol. I can still afford it. People with much less income than me will still buy it, but a black market may well flourish, something that baffles the SNP, who are slightly ahead of Dave in implementing this one.
I see the consequences of heavy drinking all the time in my work. So what, it’s a free society…that’s the whole point.
I have no doubt that these clinical manifestations of alcohol will be unaffected by the minimal price policy. Likewise, I have no doubt that it’s picking on the poor, in a particularly sanctimonous version of gesture politics.
It’s not as if the politicians don’t have more pressing issues to address.