Thursday, 23 June 2022

Minimum pricing continues to go wrong

"Minimum pricing is one of the stronger policies the Scottish Government has come up with"

Minimum pricing in Ireland has very predictably led to people driving to Northern Ireland to buy booze, as the Irish Times reports.... 

In the car park of Seamus McNamee’s off-licence, First and Last, located just minutes north of the Border, are vehicles from all over the country.

The customers, some of whom have travelled from the likes of Carlow, Wexford and Roscommon specifically, reflect the surge in business the Jonesborough retailer has experienced from the South of Ireland, following the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in the Republic.

“Since the Irish Government introduced MUP, it’s just been gradually crazy with people from southern Ireland. Since March, and then the last bank holiday weekend, it’s just been crazy. We’re run off our feet,” Mr McNamee said.

“It’s hard to quantify the increase because of the pandemic, but I’d say it’s jumped up another 30 to 40 per cent.”

Slabs of beer are the most popular for those travelling cross-Border, Mr McNamee said, as they have been most affected by the new law.

“It used to take us maybe three or four weeks to sell a pallet. Now, since MUP, we would be doing three to four pallets of Coors or Bud per week.”

Consumers are buying in bulk, too, and buying for four or five members of the one family at a time.

“They’re coming with a list and getting their bits and pieces here. You can get a spend of between €200 to €400, up to maybe €2,000 or €3,000.”

Meanwhile in Scotland, where the case for minimum pricing is in tatters, a 'public health expert' is doing an impression of Comical Ali.

A PUBLIC health expert has rubbished a Tory MSP's claim that minimum alcohol pricing isn’t working in Scotland.

In May 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to set a base price for each unit of alcohol sold - driving up the price of cheaper booze.

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, Tory MSP for Glasgow region, claimed during a meeting of the health committee in Holyrood that the scheme was failing and that the most vulnerable were cutting back on food to afford the high prices. 

Indeed. Here is what the report concluded:

The introduction of a £0.50 MUP in Scotland led to a marked increase in the prices paid for alcohol by people with alcohol dependence. There is no clear evidence that this led to reduced alcohol consumption or levels of alcohol dependence among people drinking at harmful levels. 
... People who struggled to afford the higher prices arising from MUP coped by using, and often intensifying, strategies they were familiar with from previous periods when alcohol was unaffordable for them. These strategies typically included obtaining more money by reducing spending on food and utility bills, increasing borrowing from sources such as family, friends or pawnbrokers, running down savings or other capital, and using foodbanks or other charities. In line with this, the policy increased the financial strain felt by a significant minority of people with alcohol dependence.

However, Professor Petra Meier told MSPs that she didn’t agree with his assessment of the policy and said it was one of the “stronger policies” the Scottish Government has come up with without full control of tax powers and alcohol duties. 

... Meier, director of the SIPHER Consortium which analyses the long term impact of health policies, said that she didn’t agree with Gulhane’s assessment.

She added: “It's working on the whole. There are some very heavy drinkers who may not have the opportunity to cut down their drinking who then substitute for food spending. I don't think that's a problem of the price you put on alcohol, I think it's a problem on the health services that haven't been available." [what?! - CJS]

... Meier added that for very dependent drinkers the policy “hasn't had many detrimental effects, but there has been some substitution with big purchases”.

This is delusional stuff. There is literally no evidence that minimum pricing is working. The evaluations looking at heavy drinkers, crime and hospital activity all found no evidence of any benefits. 

Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that Petra Meier was the head of the Sheffield University group that did all the modelling for minimum pricing. This modelling was virtually the only 'evidence' that the policy would work and it turned out to be deeply flawed. 
Long time readers may recall that Meier had no experience in the field of alcohol research (or modelling, as far as I can see) until she spotted a gap in the market for government-commissioned minimum pricing modelling. Having expressed an interest in alcohol research, she was immediately embraced by neo-temperance activist-academics like Robin Room and Tim Stockwell. 
She has done rather well out of it. She is now a professor and, in 2019, received £5 million from the unwitting taxpayer to set up her SIPHER outfit which employs many of her chums. Last year, she received the ultimate accolade from the temperance lobby when she was made president of the weirdo cult anti-drinking organisation, the Kettil Bruun Society (named after the godfather of the ridiculous 'whole population approach'). 

It must stick in the craw that some of her old Sheffield colleagues co-authored the Public Health Scotland evaluation that delivered such a blow to the cause two weeks ago, and it must be hard to admit that the work upon which your reputation rests was worthless junk, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.

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