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Minimum Pricing: Because You’re an Alcoholic and I’m a Binge Drinker

People are suffering serious health problems, the NHS is being overrun, there’s an increase in those turning to drink for solitude in these monetarily worrying times and so the government is proposing their usual elucidation to the majority of issues: increase prices on everything.
This isn’t a tax. Oh no. The government could not have made that clearer. But where a tax hike would cause outcry and outrage, surely a sweetly worded limitation would be seen as the ideal solution to a serious problem amongst the public. But once again, the enthusiasts, the self-controlled and the happy are forgotten and punished. I don’t want to challenge the legalities of such a proposal or the hypocrisy, but I want to look at affects or, as David Cameron would like me to say, the benefits of this plan.
It seems there are two types of people who the government and doctors believe will profit from the minimum pricing scheme; alcoholics and binge drinkers. Of course, they will have spoken to so many of these alcoholics and binge drinkers that they will have gathered all the information and evidence they need, but just on that small chance that the government didn’t do its job efficiently, I’d like to give them an example of each, because it just so happens that I know both.   
I know a serious alcoholic. He was, and still is, an ale enthusiast so was always involved with beer. But between being made redundant (from the government’s own public sector), financial worries and spiralling personal problems, the enthusiasm grew to addiction and he and his family are really suffering because of it. It is no longer a part of his life for the pleasure or enjoyment. Alcohol has become a necessity; an expensive necessity. This leads to further financial problems, which leads to further worries, which leads to more alcohol, which makes it difficult for him to find work, which leads to more alcohol, which leads to arguments with his family, which leads to more alcohol and so the cycle will continue.
An introduction of minimum pricing will mean one thing to this man: an increase in his expenditure. From the cycle we can see this will only lead to more financial difficulties and a bigger strain on his large family. Like a gambling addict who racks up the debts despite his losses, alcoholics will pay for their requirements whatever the cost. What this man needs is psychological and emotional support to help him change, as do they all. And he is one of the “luckier” alcoholics for at least he has a family with him. What of those alone? How will these new measures assist them? Doctors will be no less busy, but HMRC and payday lenders will be.
I know binge drinkers too. In fact, for my troubles, I guess I can categorise myself as one. I’d say at least twenty Saturdays out of the year I keep drinking awful drinks and damaging shots in clubs even though I know I’ve already had enough. Even my more civilised real ale pub crawls will involve at least ten pints. Is that not binge drinking? I always make sure I have a bare minimum of three alcohol free days a week, but that changes nothing. So here I am part of the new pricing systems target audience. I’m not alone. I often worry about some of those I follow on Twitter, seemingly struggling to go just ONE day without alcohol. It’s not alcoholism, but it certainly constitutes binging.
So what will it mean for me, and others? It shouldn’t mean much. Bar prices shouldn’t rise, no matter what the drink, but even if they were to, if it’s 17 drinks sunk rather than 18 has anybody benefited? Will our livers be saved because the money ran out just before the final drink. Or will we too find ourselves spending that little extra?
The recent nonsensical survey, that was beautifully brokendown by Pete Brown, supposedly showed us that teenagers happily drink as it is cheaper than other activities. I’ll analyse that. I turned 18 in 2004. In the past eight years, a pint of ale in my local has risen by 32%, despite a huge tax increase and escalator. The price of a Saturday night cinema ticket has risen 88%. The lane hire for a party at the bowling alley has risen 59%. Even the bus ticket from my home to the nearest, decent shopping town has risen 77%. The average litre of petrol has risen 46%. It isn’t that alcohol is too cheap, it’s that everything available to people has become so ludicrously expensive. What continues to astonish me about politicians is their inability to understand why those growing in a rat race focused, money absorbed society where even travelling to or from your work is a source of financial pressure, causes people to lose it all in substances that remove them, briefly, from reality. If you can legally control the price of alcohol, why not control the escalation in expense of general fun and sober frivolity?
In truth, any increase in pricing shouldn’t affect me. I don’t buy red wine costing under £4.22, nor spirits for under £12.66. I certainly don’t purchase 330ml bottles of beer for £1.17. Recently I acquired a 660ml bottle of ale that under the new system would have set me back around £3.50. It already cost me £10.99. The reality though is that, just like with the recent VAT increases and decreases, many retailers will seize the opportunity, increasing all values and blaming it on the government’s policy changes.
As usual in this country, we go with the minority. If 1% of the population who enjoy the odd drink have problems then we are all alcoholics. I believe this is known as positive discrimination. So I needn’t categorise any of us, we are all the same in the ruling bodies eyes. I can confidently say that any new pricing structure will have no positive effects on the health of the nation. Though I wouldn’t rule out seeing a very narrow and limited survey next year to the contrary.


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