Booze Britain: The Alcohol #MUP Debate?

Booze BritainThere is no doubt about it, we have to call time on the Booze Britain Culture however; the arguments around how best to tackle the issue rumble on ad infinitum. I suspect that will still be the case for many more years to come…

I don’t think many right-minded people would disagree, the negatives of excessive drinking are having a profound impact on our society. Our NHS see the impacts, our police and other emergency services are in constant combat against it and ultimately, many members of our society are suffering from it. The health and anti-social behaviour issues are myriad.

Nevertheless, some of the figures being bandied about on all sides of the arguments are not always what they seem. Take for instance the £2.7 billion price tag impact for the NHS in 2012, claimed by David Cameron as fact but found to be questionable (see Full Fact).

When the Government published their Alcohol Strategy, they emphasised the drain of alcohol abuse on our society. Central to that argument was the “overall cost of alcohol-related harm” which they placed at a staggering £21 billion a year to the UK economy.

Was that right? Investigations into the claim found that “Neither the Home Office nor the Department of Health were able to explain properly where the figures were from, and there is no obvious single point of contact to verify the original calculations” (see Full Fact).

Political spin on statistics aside. in the blog Representing the Mambo a self-professed ‘leftie’ alluded to her support for the MUP policy. A policy that was being put forward in 2011/12, but now appears now to have been shelved by David Cameron.

Obviously there are class issues and base political calculation at play and any minimum price would affect working class people disproportionately, but the solution is obvious. Drink less. The left shouldn’t be encouraging heavy alcohol consumption and siding with the drinks companies and their socially destructive agenda…(Supporting the Mambo)

In March this year there was a political U-Turn on the previous rhetoric and David Cameron wobbled on his minimum price for alcohol pledge. Despite the recent adoption of a similar policy in Scotland last year, the legality of the process is having a difficult birth due to an objection from Europe about its legality.

What about the costs/benefits analysis surrounding Minimum Alcohol Pricing?

The Full Fact website responded to the very same question (see here) however; there is also a growing body of research and evidence which suggests, many of the claims made in the past are simply tosh. Despite all the rhetoric from politicians, who want to be seen as proactive about the Booze Britain issue, the proposals for Minimum Unit Pricing won’t actually achieve the desired results it sets out to do.

The Government wants to set higher prices for alcohol. We think this will punish the responsible majority. Why should responsible drinkers pay more? (

Despite the Why Should We Pay More campaign actually being ‘the voice’ of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, who obviously have a vested commercial interest in the matter, there are also a number of valid reasons why Government-set higher prices aren’t likely to cure the Booze Britain problem (see here).

SABMiller, one of the largest brewing organisations in the world (another vested interest), have also released poll results from YouGov which show that, contrary to the Government’s claims of a boost to the industry, a 45p minimum price for alcohol will turn people away from pubs (Download YouGov report PDF -0.48Mb).

The Institute for Fiscal Studies have also examined the significance of a minimum unit price for alcohol, especially relating to on and off-licence sales and concluded; ” it is unlikely that a minimum price would have much direct impact for on-licence (pub) prices” (see here).

It’s a valid factor that could have influenced a decisions by the chief executives of 12 pub chains, nightclub groups and brewers; they recently wrote to The Daily Telegraph, urging the Prime Minister to “stick to his guns”, saying that the proposed (MUP) measure would “save lives and protect great British pubs” (see here).

Despite all the UK-wide calls for minimum pricing by many politicians, medical professionals, health campaigners and people from both inside and outside the industry, it appears the battle over alcohol pricing is set to continue for some time yet. With all the controversy and divided opinion, the minimum unit pricing policy could be dropped all together!

But what of my views and opinions?

Those who’ve been here before may already know some of the answer to that question, at least in part. With upwards of forty years ‘booze’ experience, firstly as a purveyor, secondly as an enforcer and latterly as a purveyor again but throughout, always a fan of the enjoyment obtained from sensible drinking, I think you could say I’m more than qualified to comment.

The first observation is; the ‘Booze Britain’ problems we face today are as a direct result of the changing attitudes now imbedded in our society over several generations. Getting off your head on alcohol is no longer the side-effect of having a good time, it is the sole intention of many who drink, in particular our younger citizens.

The second major impact on the issue is this; with the advent of and predominance of pub-chain conglomerates within the licensed trade, provision of alcoholic beverages has become a major commercial concern. It is no longer the ‘cottage industry’ it once was, the halcyon days when pubs were the hub of our communities and also, the actual home of the majority of licensees and their families. And all that before we even start to consider the impacts of loss-leader booze sales in our supermarkets.

The final negative impact is this; for several decades we have seen a decline in any realistic proactive enforcement of our licensing laws. Add to that a (mostly) ineffective reactive response to today’s anti-social behavior, resulting from the after effects of too much alcohol, and we have some serious problems. Issues which then have a profoundly negative impact upon crime statistics and our health services.

It’s unlikely there will be a sea-change in any of these factors overnight, despite what politicians may think or desire. Although MUP may seem a sensible measure at face value, it is a facile and inadequate solution. It is also unlikely to ever result in the aims it is designed to achieve.

The price of booze isn’t the problem here, or the route cause of the issues we face. It’s the predominant public perception of the rights and wrongs of getting off your head, that and a devil-may-care attitude to the impacts of the aftermath on others.

There is no singular ‘quick fix’ for the ‘Booze Britain’ problems we now face, MUP certainly isn’t the magic key. Any return to the erstwhile era of simply enjoying a night out, without all the negative impacts, is likely to take a generation or more to fix!