Thursday, 12 August 2010

Screw the poor

Many people were hoping that the new coalition government might demonstrate a significantly less bullying and authoritarian approach to public policy than its predecessor. Now, I have argued in the past that, at least on issues of “lifestyle freedom”, a change of government was unlikely to bring much respite. And so it has proven, with David Cameron expressing qualified support for the Greater Manchester local authorities’ crack-brained plan to impose a minimum unit price for alcohol in their area. This was clearly an instinctive response and reveals his true colours to be those of a patronising, authoritarian snob rather than anything that could even be vaguely called a libertarian. And his reference to “tins of Stella” really showed him to be someone in touch with what is happening on the street.

As I have repeatedly pointed out before, minimum pricing is an extremely inefficient and broad-brush method of dealing with “problem drinking” (whatever that may be) and would in practice have a significant impact on the wallets of less well-off families, even if they kept within official drinking guidelines. Hell, a few months ago, I even heard the then Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who is hardly a liberal in the true sense of the word, arguing against it on those grounds.

Now I can’t really see Cameron pressing ahead with this once Sir Terry Leahy’s tanks are drawn up on his lawn, let alone the fact that it is totally illegal under both UK and EU competition law. And hopefully, by bringing the “Tory snob” factor into the debate on minimum pricing, it will help expose the idea as a direct attack on the lifestyles and living standards of the poor, and make it less likely to happen, not more.


  1. Whilst not exclusively tied I suspect there is a significant correlation between alcohol consumption and income/quality of life levels. Hence raising alcohol prices will always hit the poor hardest. Any government keen to reduce high levels of drink consumption could make a marked effect by raising the living standards of the poorest in society.

  2. I can't quote a source, but I think it's been shown that people in higher socio-economic groups do on average drink more alcohol than those less well off. Poorer groups may contain more "problem drinkers", but also more teetotallers. On the other hand, the reverse correlation with smoking is well known.


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