Sunday, 25 February 2018

The minimum pricing bait-and-switch.

Minimum pricing doesn't start in Scotland until May, but phase two of the campaign has already begun.

From the Sunday Times...

Minimum drink price of 50p ‘just for starters’

The cost of wine, spirits and beer in Scotland could rise by far more than the 50p minimum unit price (MUP) taking effect in May, after politicians and experts warned that the measure will not do enough to safeguard public health.

The temperance beast is never satiated. The battle over minimum pricing isn't about 50p units. It's about whether the price mechanism should be in the grubby hands of the 'public health' racket. Once the government has conceded the point that charging more for a unit of alcohol 'saves lives', there is no obvious reason not to raise it to 'save' more lives.

The junk Sheffield model claims that there would be more health benefits if the price was set at 60p, 70p or 80p. The higher it goes, the greater the supposed benefit.

The idea that a 50p minimum price is 'evidence-based' has always been absurd, and not just because the model itself is worthless. In what sense does the evidence dictate a 50p price rather than a 75p price or a £3 price? It doesn't and it can't. There is no evidence to tell us what the correct price is, but by the logic of 'public health' and the Sheffield model, it should always be higher.

As such, politicians can always be accused of allowing x number of people to die by failing to increase the unit price. Once this Pandora's Box has been opened, it cannot be closed.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has advised Nicola Sturgeon’s administration that the price now could be 64p, based on the consumer price index for alcoholic products in 2011-17. It wants ministers to consider a 60p rate, as proposed by Willie Rennie MSP, the Scottish Lib Dem leader — or even a 70p rate.

The RSE said: “A rise to a rate of 70p would reflect a greater degree of ambition, might also be supported, and would have a larger effect on the consumption of alcohol and on inequalities of outcomes."

Adjusted for inflation, 50p in 2011 is actually closer to 60p than 64p, let alone 70p, but it is true that 50p today is worth less today than it was then. If the intention is to get the putative benefits laid out in the Sheffield report of 2012, a case could be made for setting the price at 60p. But that is not what the public have been sold. The claim that minimum pricing has little or no effect on moderate drinkers and people on low incomes is a lie, but it is a lie based on modelling a 50p unit. At 60p or 70p, the impact is impossible to disguise.

When Sheffield's guns for hire started spinning minimum pricing as a policy that would have a negligible impact on moderate drinkers, they based their assumptions around a 45p unit price. That was in 2014 when nobody was seriously talking about a minimum price below 50p. They focused on the 45p scenario precisely because it was less damaging than 50p.

They have since abandoned the 45p ruse but all their subsequent claims, including the risible lie that minimum pricing 'very specifically affects the alcohol that's only purchased, really, by heavier drinkers', is based on a 50p unit.

Now we see that even 50p may have been unrealistic. The Scottish public has been sold a pig in a poke.

Some politicians and experts want radical action following research indicating that alcohol is 60% more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980, and that it is possible to exceed new lower-risk guidelines for alcohol of 14 units a week for less than £2.50.

Will they be happy when it is possible to exceed the new, fictitious guidelines for less than £7.50? Of course not. There is no theoretical limit to the unit price, but we can be sure that above-inflation rises will be demanded regardless of whether the policy is seen to have worked or not.

In theory, a £1 minimum price would be still more effective. A £3 price would be even better. The only reason nobody is calling for a £3 unit price is that it would raise the cost of living and create all sorts of unintended consequences.

But so will a 50p unit. The only difference is that politicians and medics would be personally affected by a £3 unit whereas they can afford it at 50p.

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