Alcohol price-fixing will not solve binge-drinking
So a professing Conservative free-marketeer in coalition with a professing Liberal proponent of equality seek to adopt a Socialist mechanism to interfere with market prices which will disproportionately hit the poorest in society. Estimates suggest that a minimum price per unit of 45p would result in the steepest price increases for cider, gin and vodka, while wine, beer and whisky would see more modest rises.
So, a bottle of Sainsbury's finest gin with around 37.5 per cent alcohol content would go up from £6.95 to £11.85. A two-litre bottle of Tesco's cider would more than triple in price from £1.20 to £3.75. The cost of a £12 bottle of whisky would rise to £12.60, while a bottle of cheap wine would go up from around £3.75 to £4.20. A four-pack of beer with more than five per cent alcohol content would cost a minimum of about £3.95.
Cold someone please tell the Prime Minister that louts and slappers intent on getting off their faces on a Friday night binge in the town centre will not be deterred by a couple of quid: those who can pay £1.20 for two litres of cider will certainly find £3.75. And what 60p on a £12 bottle of whisky will achieve is something of a mystery (other, of course, than to swell the coffers of HM Treasury). The poorest will find it hardest: low-income households who drink their stout responsibly will feel the effects far more than the middle and higher-income households who swim in lager and guzzle down the Chardonnay.
National price-fixing will not solve binge-drinking. And if it is left to local authorities to introduce bylaws to make alcohol more expensive in the town centres, this will simply introduce incoherence into the market and give retailers outside the controlled zone an unfair advantage. There is also an EU dimension here which cannot be ignored, but is tangential to the main issue, which is that it is not the supply of alcohol that needs regulating, but the demand.
People drink for a variety of reasons, and the vast majority do so responsibly. But alcohol is a drug like any other, and those who seek escape from loneliness, depression, abuse or the stresses of modern living are far more vulnerable to its effects and prone to addiction. It is tragic to hear of 25-year-old men with incurable cirrhosis of the liver. It is heart-breaking to read of young mothers who have been drinking heavily for 10 years and who bring up their children to prefer Tetley's to Ribena. And it is profoundly distressing to learn of children who cower in fear when their fathers return at 2.00am; when the doors slam and the shouting starts. Those scars can last a lifetime.
Alcoholism is a classless disease quite independent of wealth. It may be more discreet in the affluent suburbs, but only because it spreads behind closed doors. In poorer areas, it has to spill out onto the streets because there is an overwhelming need to escape from a home of tedium, depression or abuse. However fleeting, alcohol makes you feel better: it anaesthetises you to the unbearable reality.
A few quid on a bottle of vodka will not address hopelessness, despair, mental illness or family breakdown.