Minimum alcohol pricing is often mistakenly seen by those such as CAMRA who wish to defend pubs as a means of improving their competitive situation by reducing the price differential vis-a-vis the off-trade. However, as Dick Puddlecote has pointed out to me, the research by the University of Sheffield on which many of the arguments for minimum pricing are based in fact puts forward as one of its favoured options setting different minimum prices for on- and off-trades, with the former more than twice the latter.
Differential minimum pricing for on-trade and off-trade leads to more substantial reductions in consumption (30p off-trade together with an 80p on-trade minimum price -2.1% versus -0.6% for 30p only; 40p together with 100p -5.4% compared to -2.6% for 40p only). This is firstly because much of the consumption by younger and hazardous drinking groups (including those at increased risk of criminal offending due to high intake on a particular day) occurs in the on-trade. It is also because increasing prices of cheaper alcohol in the on-trade dampens down the behaviour switching effects when off-trade prices are increased.Now, 80p per unit would start to affect many Wetherspoon’s pubs (not to mention Sam Smith’s), and 100p would affect a large slice of on-trade beer outside London and the South-East.
Anti-drink campaigners identify two separate problems caused by alcohol – long-term health damage resulting from harmful levels of consumption over many years, and disorder and violence resulting from excessive consumption on specific occasions. The two overlap, but they’re not remotely the same thing, and a flat-rate minimum price is only really going to address the first. Although there may be some contribution from “pre-loading”, alcohol-related disorder is overwhelmingly associated with on-trade consumption.
So, pub-lovers, be very careful before you succumb to the embrace of minimum pricing, as it could very well end up being toxic to the thing you hoped to protect.