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Article Title
Alcohol: Pricing and consumption.
Paul G
Topic Section(s)
Submitted : 05-11-2010 16:57
Amended : 10-11-2014 13:43
Status : Approved:  
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This is an Issue Analysis article.  It attempts to identify the arguments for and against a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, using quotes from the media to illustrate each point. It does not recommend a decision; it is designed to help those who consider the issue to take into account all the arguments 'for' and 'against'.


1  The Proposal

That a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol should be set in order to:

  • discourage young drinkers
  • discourage binge drinking.



Daily Telegraph 16/03/09

He [the CMO] recommended setting a minimum price per unit of alcohol at 50p and tightening licensing laws so local authorities had to consider the deaths and ill-health due to alcohol in the area before granting new licenses for pubs or clubs.


2   Arguments

2.1 Argument  For

2.1.1 It will reduce drinking of alcohol generally

The Times 17/03/2009

All the research shows that there is a straight correlation between the price of alcohol and its use (Sheffield University).

The most fundamental law of economics links the price of a product to the demand for that product. Accordingly, increases in the monetary price of alcohol (i.e., through tax increases) would be expected to lower alcohol consumption and its adverse consequences. Studies investigating such a relationship found that alcohol prices were one factor influencing alcohol consumption among youth and young adults.

2.1.2 It will prevent the young from drinking so much

The Times 17/03/2009

Easy access to cheap alcohol is “killing us as never before”.

The Times 17/03/2009

“You are absolutely correct that the UK's problem with alcohol has to be tackled directly, remember the reactions to the Tobacco Ban two years ago? We must raise off-sale prices and target those products that fuel abuse. Market forces dictate alcohol is priced to meet kids and their parents’ pockets.”

S Carr, Glasgow, Scotland

The Sun 19/03/2009

THE Government yesterday warned parents NEVER to let children have alcohol before the age of 15.The strong advice, from Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson, came as shocking figures showed that more than 300,000 kids between 11 and 15 get drunk every week. Even teenagers between 15 and 17 should drink no more than once a week — always under a parent’s watchful eye. Sir Liam said: “Parents and young people should be aware that drinking, even at 15 or older, can be hazardous to health. “There is emerging medical evidence to suggest that damage to the structure and function of the brain takes place with exposure to alcohol at those sorts of ages.” Sir Liam said: “More than 10,000 children end up in hospital every year due to drink.”  Last night health campaigners backed the Government. Don Shenker, of Alcohol Concern, said the guidelines helped parents who received “mixed messages” about whether to give children booze. But he said: “There are more factors influencing young people’s drinking than what parents say. “The easy availability of alcohol at pocket money prices is far more important.” 

Guardian 16/03/2009

The Liberal Democrats also said that "ridiculously" cheap alcohol was contributing to the problem of binge-drinking and called on the government to act.

Daily Mail 19/03/2009

There is no doubt that the cheap price of alcohol has contributed to the phenomenon by putting such drinks within reach of more people. But price is surely only one element in this story.

2.1.3 It will save many lives

The Times 17/03/2009

All the research shows that there is a straight correlation between the price of alcohol and its use. When Sheffield University carried out its definitive review last year of the effect of increasing the price per unit of alcohol on sales and consumption, it came up with a striking model and some equally striking conclusions. A minimum price of 40p per unit, it estimated, would reduce hospital admissions by 40,000; it would cut crime by 3,800 cases a year; it would save the Government more than £1 billion in social costs; above all, it would reduce the number of deaths by anything up to half.

2.1.4 It will save the NHS/the country money

Daily Telegraph 16/03/2009  

The measure would see 3,393 fewer deaths, 97,900 fewer hospital admissions, 45,800 fewer crimes, 296,900 fewer sick days, 12,400 fewer people unemployed and benefit society by £1bn a year.

2.1.5 Passive drinking argument

Daily Telegraph 16/03/09

The nation is blighted by 'passive drinking' as the damage caused by drink drivers, domestic violence, crime and anti-social behaviour means innocent bystanders bear the brunt of the problem, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, has warned.

2.2 Arguments against

2.2.1 It penalises moderate drinkers

Daily Telegraph 20/03/2009

Earlier Gordon Brown rejected the minimum price per unit idea, which would see the end to cans of lager and cider sold at less than the cost of a bottle of water, saying he did not want the majority of moderate drinkers to pay more.

Guardian 20/03/2009

The prime minister said that he would protect the interests of the "sensible majority of moderate drinkers" when responding to proposals from Sir Liam Donaldson for a minimum charge of 50p per unit of alcohol to be imposed on beer and wine.

Independent 16/03/2009

Penalising everyone who enjoys a drink in order to deal with a troublesome minority is unnecessary.

2.2.2  It penalises the poor disproportionately

The Sun 19/03/2009

The last pre-Budget report raised bevvy duty on alcohol by eight per cent — and this after the previous Budget saw beer go up by 4p a pint, wine by 14p a bottle and spirits by 55p. That’s miles above inflation and the Government plan to keep on increasing booze by two per cent above the rate for the next four years.

The Times

“the idea that people would drink less just because it costs more is flawed to say the least. The problem drinkers would still drink. it would penalise people such as the little old lady that enjoys a g&t occasionally. it wont reduce problem drinkers.”

Jonathan, Birmingham, England

2.2.3 It won't discourage binge drinking

The Times 17/03/2009

“Alcohol in British off-licences is among the most expensive in Europe. In Germany I can buy top-quality beer for less than the price of the cheapest stuff in British supermarkets. In Portugal good table wine is one euro a bottle and drunken teenagers are nowhere to be seen. Price is a red herring.”

Alan Johnson, Carlisle,

“Objection: This does and will hit moderate drinkers and adds just a little extra unpleasantness to our daily lives. (I'm a moderate drinker). Will it stop the young getting drunk - yes they will use drugs instead. Solve the reason why they drink, the hopelessness, then you can tax us more.”

James, London,

2.2.4 It is politically unacceptable in a recession

Mirror 17/03/2009

Raising the price of booze in the middle of a recession would be suicide for any government, especially one drinking in the last chance saloon.

2.2.5 It's the Nanny State

The Times 17/03/2009

“I am sick of government telling me what is good or bad for me, let me choose. The problem is the law doesn't punish the law breakers. The government takes responsibility away from the individual by finding excuses for bad behaviour. Leave prices alone deal with the drunks!!”

Kevan Kite, Salamanca, Spain

2.2.6 Current legislation makes it unnecessary

Independent 16/03/2009

The Government already has levers at its disposal, from taxation, through licensing, to the minimum age for buying alcohol and laws on anti-social behaviour. Until these measures are used more effectively than they are, there is no point in introducing any more.

Political Issues

3.1 Government policy is contradictory

The Times 17/03/2009

“I despair of the logic of this government, I really do. They introduce longer drinking hours in the duff hope of creating a 'cafe' society, then fail to accept the consequences - that our despairing young people will drink themselves to oblivion........result - higher policing/hospital costs.”

Shirley Bowen, Blackpool, UK

3.2 Freedom of the individual

Daily Mail 19/03/2009

Left-wingers alighted upon a much more effective way of changing society and bringing people under state control.  This was to smash all the moral and social norms that previously policed and constrained irresponsible excesses. So illegitimacy was condoned, lone parenthood positively encouraged, and gambling and drinking deregulated - all in the name of 'individual choice'. Progressives accordingly promoted the idiotic claim that the greatest harm was done not by destructive behaviour but by the stigma and regulations that once held it in check.

3.3 Changing the culture

The Times 17/03/2009

[We need a shift in] public opinion that makes being drunk as unacceptable as smoking.

The Times 17/03/2009

“Raising the price of alcohol, then, far from meeting with resistance, would be going with the grain of present trends. The only obstacles to implementing reform are the policymakers.”

Magnus Linklater

The Times 17/03/2009

In northern Europe people drink themselves stupid despite the price (Norwegians even go on booze cruises to Sweden) but in southern Europe people drink moderately on cheap drink.It's a cultural issue.Also, if I was still young and growing up in NuLab UK, I'd want to drink to destruction as well.

3.4 Relations between Government and CMO

The Times 16/03/2009

While Sir Liam may have been measured in his criticism of those who appear to be playing political football with his proposals for public health reform, it is a situation that would have been neither expected nor tolerated by his 14 predecessors in the role.

3.5 The power of the drinks industry

The Times 17/03/2009

I suspect that the real reason for the objections to minimum pricing comes from the drinks industry rather than from conscience. And that is a lousy reason for letting the mayhem continue.

Daily Mail 19/03/2009

The power of the drink industry's influence was illustrated by the group of academics who advised ministers to extend pub opening hours - and who were themselves funded by more than 20 separate drinks and pub organisations.

In other words, the regulation system has effectively been rigged to favour an alcohol industry whose irresponsibility and cynicism this Government has systematically indulged.

3.6 Reliability of statistics

The Times 17/03/2009

“This is a very wooly argument based on emotion and the slew of "facts" don't make sense. If beer was 139% cheaper it would be less than free. If "all" the research showed a correlation between price and consumption it must be rigged. The medical officer is meddling in politics and should be sacked”

John Thompson, Bangkok, Thailand

“Magnus, sloppy thinking and analysis. Correlation of price and excess drinking does NOT prove causation. The much vaunted Sheffield model is premise dependant and therefore unproven in predictive power. The Measham study actually demonstrates that the price/consumption link is already breaking down.”

Ian, Stratford, UK

Daily Mail 19/03/2009

I have noticed that the more graphic the statistics, the less reliable they are likely to be. The National Guesswork Authority has no record of 120,000 coffin nails a year. Like all projected figures, they are better at guessing the future than recalling the past.

4         Analysis of the Arguments: Suumary

Arguments for:

  • It will reduce drinking of alcohol generally
  • It will prevent the young from drinking so much
  • It will save many lives
  • It will save the NHS/the country money
  • Passive dinking argument

Arguments against:

  • It penalises moderate drinkers
  • It penalises the poor disproportionately
  • It won't discourage binge drinking
  • It is politically unacceptable in a recession
  • It's the Nanny State
  • Current legislation makes it unnecessary


Status: Approved
Reply Date : 17-11-2010 17:09
Author : LJ
Alcohol taboo to the under-18s
Raising the price of a unit of alcohol is not the answer. I do not believe it will deter resolute underage drinkers. They will find a way of raising the extra cash to fund their ‘past time’ (probably by extorting the extra from their parents).

It is true there is no easy solution to this multi-faceted problem. However, at least a small part of the solution must lie in not making alcohol ‘taboo’ to anyone under the age of 18. Yes, there must be laws in place to protect young people, but the reason many young people drink is for devilment; “the law says I can’t, so I am”. It is a challenge for underage drinkers to see if they can beat the system by getting served in the local ‘offy’ without being asked for ID.

It would seem that France does not have the same problem with underage drinkers that we apparently have in Britain. I would argue that this is down to the fact that alcohol is not portrayed as bad or strictly off-limits to anyone under 18; it is a part of the French culture and, as such, children are introduced to wine in a sensible and controlled way i.e. watered down at the odd meal time or special occasion. To say parents should NEVER let children have alcohol before the age of 15 would only serve to exacerbate the issue of it being ‘forbidden fruit’. I am not talking about giving children a pint with their dinner, but surely a very small dash of wine or beer in some lemonade in the privacy of the family home can’t do much harm?

To introduce a minimum price per unit would only serve to penalise moderate drinkers (as Gordon Brown said) and will not deter the alcoholics or strong-minded, experimental underage drinkers in our society.