There was good news for Scottish drinkers when the opposition parties blocked the SNP government’s plan to impose a minimum price per unit of alcohol. Whatever one’s views on the merits of the proposal, they were right to insist that it was such a significant change that it should be fully debated in the Scottish Parliament and not just sneaked in via secondary legislation. It is now not likely to come in until well into 2010, if at all.
This followed the release of a study by the Centre for Economics & Business Research which found that consumers in Scotland would pay £80 million more a year – £35 per household – if a minimum price of 40p per unit was brought in, but the policy would do little to help problem drinkers. It pointed out that heavy drinkers tended to be the least responsive to price changes.
There is a hypothesis popular with anti-alcohol campaigners called the Ledermann Theory which postulates that the amount of “alcohol harm” in society is directly proportional to overall consumption, and therefore reducing the latter is in itself desirable. However, the study referred to above suggests otherwise, and I would have thought it was common sense that a substantial rise in the price of alcohol would tend to widen the statistical gap between light and heavy drinkers rather than impacting evenly across the board.
Most of the people buying cheap booze are not doing so because they are problem drinkers, but simply because they’re not very well off. And there has to be a limit as to how much responsible drinkers should be made to suffer in an attempt to deter the irresponsible minority.