Taxing your sorrows away


beersThe government wants to increase tax on beers with more than 7.5% ABV (alcohol by volume). Despite the fact that this will affect only 0.5% of total alcohol sales, the measures are somehow supposed to discourage the supposed anti-social behaviour and alcohol abuse associated with strong lagers. Yet again, higher taxes seem to be the government’s answer to every question.

The measures are being introduced after health and homelessness groups raised their concerns over how accessible strong lagers were becoming. It may be right that these beers do create problems for a small number of people but does that mean the government should intervene and protect all consumers? No. Even if you concede that the government has a role to play in shaping people’s drinking habits, raising tax on these products will do little to affect the problem of binge drinking or alcohol abuse amongst the homeless. People who choose to drink purely to get drunk will simply switch to spirits or ciders, which are already popular amongst the groups that the tax is supposed to target.

What the government hasn’t considered is that those who choose to drink these beverages are not always guilty of such stereotypes. There are some who enjoy Imperial stouts and Belgian beer who will be penalised by this new duty purely because of the choice of drink they prefer. Fans of Belgian trappist beers don’t strike me as the problem demographic in binge drinking. Those who prefer wine or spirits the duty rates will have no problem.

Despite the fact that this tax will aim to influence people's behaviour, it will have limited impact. With hardly any pubs or clubs selling beers over 7.5% ABV, it won’t do anything to binge drinking on our streets. For those who the government are trying to protect from themselves, it will simply result in them switching to other forms of alcohol, spirits or cider, to satisfy their wants.