Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Minimum pricing begins

There have only really been two major changes in alcohol policy in the UK in the last twenty years. The first was in 2005 when the licensing laws were liberalised. The 'public health' lobby claimed that it would be a disaster, leading to more violence, more alcohol being drunk and more alcohol-related deaths. It didn't. By any reasonable, it was a success.

The second begins in Scotland today. The 'public health' lobby claims that minimum pricing is going to reduce alcohol consumption, alcohol-related deaths, crime, traffic accidents and God knows what else. We shall see.

The only thing that is certain is that it will raise the cost of living for millions of people. This makes it likely that it will be unpopular with ordinary consumers and that there will be unintended consequences. Cross-border booze trips - both legal (for own consumption) and illegal (for resale in Scotland) - are bound to take place, possibly on a large scale. Home production of alcohol could increase. Substitution towards illegal drugs may take place.

Again, we shall see. For the 'public health' lobby, Scotland is just a foot in the door. The name of the game is to export minimum pricing to the rest of the UK and then the rest of the world as soon as possible, so expect to hear claims about its immediate success within months, based on conference presentations and unpublished studies. They managed to lie successfully about the experience in Canada, so they will not struggle to distort whatever evidence emerges from Scotland.

In due course, this will be followed up by official evaluations. You won't be surprised that the task of evaluating minimum pricing has been given to activist-academics from the universities of Sheffield and Stirling who lobbied for the policy from the outset (see also: the sugar tax evaluation). There is approximately zero chance of them concluding that minimum pricing has been anything but a glorious success and should be implemented by Westminster, although they will add that 50p is really too low to get the full benefit.

I put out a quote out for the IEA yesterday:

"From midnight, shoppers in Scotland will see drastic increases in the price of their favourite drinks. It will become clear that minimum pricing is not a targeted measure that will only affect a few strong ciders. The public has been misled about this policy from the outset. Back-of-the-envelope calculations have been used to justify a nationwide rip-off that will raise the cost of living for all but the very rich.

"If alcohol companies colluded to fix prices in this way, they would be prosecuted. Minimum pricing will suck tens of millions of pounds out of the pockets of ordinary drinkers to feed the egos of grandstanding politicians. Today is a good day if you run an off licence in Berwick-upon-Tweed. It is a bad day to be Scottish."

Further reading:

The likely consequences of minimum pricing 

Why minimum pricing won't help pubs

Why the Sheffield model is worthless

No comments: