Tuesday 5 February 2013

Minimum Alcohol Pricing Folly: What Is Success?

To continue with an occasional series on David Cameron's daft minimum alcohol pricing idea, let's look at what can be considered as 'success' if it were to be implemented.

The Home Office have stated that they are predicting a "just over 3%" reduction in sales if a 45p unit price is adopted. Of course, this is based on shoddy policy-based evidence commissioned from Sheffield University specifically for the government's purposes, but let's ignore that for now.

Here is how alcohol consumption is trending according to statistics on alcohol sold per capita.

From 11.5 litres per head in 2004 to 10.0 litres per head in 2011, consumption is already falling by a thimbleful below 2% every year.

So, say minimum pricing was installed tomorrow and there was a 3% reduction in consumption for the following year, would the Home Office claim that it was a success? I think we know the answer, don't we? Cos they is lying bastards.

But wait! The government has also been trumpeting the success of their responsibility deal, which they announced as having taken one billion alcohol units out of the marketplace. What percentage does that represent? Coalition MP Norman Lamb has helpfully provided us with the answer.
"One of the consequences of the responsibility deal is that by 2015, 1 billion units of alcohol - about 2% - will be taken out of the market, and that will help some problem drinkers significantly."
That's, presumably, an extra 2% on top of the ongoing 2% trend, yes?

But then, as we are constantly told, there is this 'epidemic' of drunkenness which for some strange reason isn't borne out by official statistics. Perhaps there is an imminent increase in wild, crazy alcohol consumption to come.

Well no, apparently not. You see, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has predicted that consumption will continue to diminish right through to 2018 [opens in Excel, table 2.11]  An 'epidemic' that has been declining for best part of a decade and is predicted to carry on spiralling downwards for another five years is not particularly scary, I'd venture.

Still, let's crunch the figures anyway.

My little iPhone calculator here says that - based on average strengths of beer, wine and spirits - we're talking another reduction in consumption of about 2.4 billion units by five years time. If one billion is 2%, that's another 4.8% or a percentage point per year, give or take.

Therefore, to achieve the fabled 3% reduction solely through minimum alcohol pricing, there would have to be a reduction in consumption in excess of 8% - or thereabouts - in the year after it is made law if minimum pricing is to be hailed as a success.

No, of course it won't happen. The current decline - which has been evident for at least seven years now - will be held up as proof positive that minimum alcohol pricing has worked. The minority who favour it (mostly public-funded health lobbyists) may even throw in a heart attack miracle or two as well, they like that kind of junk stat.

We've seen it all before, haven't we?

But more importantly, what's the point? If alcohol consumption is already falling; if it is predicted to carry on falling by the OBR; and if the responsibility deal is working as intended (despite alarmists saying it wouldn't, by the way), why the need for a deeply divisive policy whose design will undoubtedly take money from the less well off and give it to the not-so less well off?

It does beg the question, doesn't it? Is this a class thing?


Jay said...

It's always been a class thing -- drinking, smoking, eating... The (apparently very easy) trick is convincing the plebs that it's not.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Quite. Don't it make you want to feed them bark?

Legiron said...

Oh where is your ambition? Bark is easy, just tell them it is the ultimate fibre source. I'm working on gravel now...

Wyn Jones said...

Of course it's a class thing. The toffee nose ex public school out of touch cronies who are in government can easily afford champagne and Pimms which will not be within the scope of minimum pricing. The only people it would affect are the poorest in society who can only afford cheap own brand drinks from supermarkets.

nisakiman said...

Well yes, as you say, of course it's a class thing. It's the lower orders that get smashed and cause riots, innit? You won't find the upper classes doing that sort of thing. Just look at the Bullingdon Club, our Dave's former dining club. You'd never find them drinking to excess and creating mayhem, would you? No, of course not. That's why we need minimum pricing - to keep the plebs in order.

SadButMadLad said...

Alcohol consumption is falling and the stats show that. Though the stats are skewed a bit by self reporting. If you ask me how much I drink, I'll say one pint a month because I hardly drink at all - except during Drinkuary when I managed at least a shot a day. But it's nothing like that. Some months I don't drink at all, other months I might go to a number of parties. But what's my drinking level - no one knows unless they are watching 24/7 and we don't want to go there.

Even with the self reporting, consumption is going down. But the bansturbaters don't use figures which disagree with them. They're probably using the hospital admission figures where they can twist the stats to their liking by allocating a level of drink to every hospital admission even if the admission did not involve alcohol at all. According to these stats, consumption is rising. And that's because they only look at the really drunk who come into A&E. But these are only a tiny tiny minority of the overall drinking population. And it's usually down to the actions of the bansturbaters which leads to extreme drunkedness such as restrictive licensing times, planning which concentrates pubs into one small area, etc.

So lies, damned lies, and statistics.

There should be no stats and there should be no nannying state. It's not a public health issue even if lots of people drink.

prog said...

Two of which were key elements of the traditional pub culture. About 3 years ago the self-righteous MP Paul Flynn told me that he was pleased to see pubs fail because they encourage anti-social behaviour. Probably not something he'd say in parliament, nor indeed to his constituents.

c777 said...

Its a tax thing?

As alcohol consumption declines so does the tax take.
So their answer is the usual one ,more tax per unit to ensure the tax take remains the same.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

An interesting theory, I'm certain that extra VAT to be raised has crossed their minds. The exact anticipated figure may even be mentioned in the impact assessment, I'll look later.

James Pickett said...

I noticed recently that Gold Label, one of my favourite Winter tipples, is now a mere 7.5% ABV. I'm pretty sure it was over 8% not long ago, and it has been over 10%, so wot's going on? Alcohol consumption is bound to go down if the content is reduced!

Perhaps if everyone took up home brewing..?