Hitting your wallets


Policy Exchange have released a report entitled Hitting the Bottle that calls for the hiking up the price of most alcoholic drinks. The analysis behind this report is largely flawed as it is built upon the misplaced assumption that strong alcohol is the primary cause of alcohol abuse.

In reality, even if there is a correlation between the cost of alcohol and the amount that is drunk (although this is far from clear), there is certainly no proven correlation between the strength of alcohol and the harm resulting in drinking it. The most popular alcohols are medium to low strength lagers, not the more challenging and stronger ales and Belgian beers that this paper is suggesting need targeting. For example, Leffe Blonde will be in the highest rate of top-up tax set out by the authors; yet this is a premium beer usually drunk in moderation. People frontload on plentiful cheap and weak larger, not Duvel.

The authors of this report must be teetotallers; a partaker of alcohol would not offer as appeasement the fact that under their system low alcohol wines of less than 8.5% abv would be cheaper. Nobody I know has ever even heard of wine below 8.5% abv. Whereas the idea that “Government education campaigns on alcohol should promote ‘dry days’, including a focus on weekend abstinence" would be in equal parts mocked and ineffective.

There is only one recommendation in the report worth considering. This is that:

The costs of being admitted to hospital to sleep off alcoholic excess should not be covered by the NHS, but should be borne by the relevant individuals themselves. Patients admitted to hospital for less than 24 hours with acute alcohol intoxication should be charged the NHS tariff cost for their admission of £532.

Clearly this would lessen the running costs of the NHS, so our taxes would have to be cut in line with the amount passed on to the individuals (although oddly enough, the authors fail to mention this in their report).

In truth, cutting alcohol excess is not something that any government, with the best will in the world, is able to do through the manipulation of prices. All politicians can really do, is to take away the collectivization of responsibility and leave individuals to pay for the errors of their drinking habits. For the rest, I suggest they refer to Mill's Harm Principle.