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Cheap Cider, Concussion And Fairness

Friday, April 17th, 2009 Cheap Cider, Concussion And Fairness

Zoe Williams of the Guardian (17 03 09) presents an interesting article relating to ‘alcoholics and binge drinkers who may have made poor life choices, but don’t have to earn justice with good behaviour’. She reaches this view on the basis that Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England is a ‘misogynist’ with reference to his statements on women and drinking whilst pregnant. He appears to assume to much.

She argues that his ideologies are most certainly not relevant on todays current climate surrounding alcohol pricing. His proposals to price alcohol at between 40-50p per unit are defended with a sinister emotive ploy that the “quality of life of families and in cities and towns up and down the country is being eroded by the effects of excessive drinking. Cheap alcohol is killing us as never before.” Williams questions ‘are we in a family,, or do you have to physically live with the buggers? Do we all deserve our quality of life to be considered, or just those with children and/or parents?)’

According to a senior lecturer in public health at Sheffield University, Dr Petra Meier, who carried out research for the Department of Health on alcohol pricing, explained on yesterday’s Today programme: “Minimum pricing has got some interesting features. One of them is that it only targets cheap alcohol … and cheap alcohol is preferred by young people and harmful drinkers.”

The writers concern is the fact that we as a nation are being forced to have publicly funded research to establish that young people and alcoholics prefer drinks that don’t cost very much, and move on. However, the stated impacts of a 50p unit minimum which equates to £13 a month for a “harmful” drinker, or £1 for a regular drinker are indeed another matter. These measures were immediately contested by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association who state that 58% of wine bought in this country is in bottles that cost £4 or less, thus assuming 10 units to a bottle then the price would go up by at least a pound; the impact on a regular drinker, therefore, assumes consumption of one bottle a month. As the WSTA representative said, with quiet conviction: “I do not understand this figure.”

In essence the debate appears to come down on the side of the moderate drinker, who also has moderate means. Furthermore it has been established that all alcohol pressure groups are against the measure. Notwithstanding SABMiller from the Centre for Economics and Business Research have said that the average cost to a household would be £68 a year; the total cost to consumers would be £1.8bn; and the total benefit to wider society, including the reduced costs of the NHS, policing and victims of crime, would amount to only £200m.

There is almost a concensus of opinion with regards to excessive drinking, but Williams argues, ‘all that is wrong with these plans is that they are insufficiently targeted to hit the properly desperate, and poorly assessed for their economic impact on people who aren’t quite desperate enough.’

In addition she suggests that it is ’simply is not fair to put up the price of cheap booze for the people who can afford it least. The fact of their poor life choices does not mean they relinquish their right to fairness; justice is not something you should have to earn with good behaviour.’

Fundamentally, it has never been satisfactorily transparent that one surrenders the right to self-destruction just by being part of society. Lets not forget that the UK alcohol industry contributes £14bn a year to the exchequer. This figure is far more than the healthcare and policing.

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