I’m going to take myself back in time now and move myself to Scotland. I am in my late 40’s, earning a decent income and alcohol dependent. The UK Supreme Court has just ruled that Scotland can set a minimum price for alcohol. What does this mean for me? What are my options?
As you will be aware such a ruling took place in November last year. There was much media coverage and debate leading up to and following the decision. I knew it was something I wanted to write about but took the decision to wait and reflect on all I’d heard and read.
Before I start with my views and other considerations; it is worth just recapping on some of the facts and what this really means. Basically a unit of alcohol will have a minimum price set at 50p. In reality this means the following basic minimum pricing:
- Spirits (70cl) at 40% ABV – £14
- Lager (500ml) at 4% ABV – £1
- Cider (1 litre) at 5% ABV – £2.50
- Wine (75cl) at 12.5% ABV – £4.69
There is no doubt that the higher strength lagers and cider however, would be hit the hardest. However, in reality many alcoholic drinks are already priced above the threshold and would remain unchanged, particularly in pub/bar environments. This raises a further question for me. Should there be a consideration of a different minimum pricing limit for drinking in pubs and bars?
As an alcoholic, I am not even sure that I would have been aware of the ruling in the first place. I was just about functioning, but in order to do so, took in to my brain space the minimum amount of information I needed to survive. Had I been aware, how would I feel?
My drinks of choice were vodka and wine. I could buy a budget bottle of vodka for £10. I could get wine for £3 a bottle or at least 3 for £10. A typical day would be a bottle of vodka and a bottle of wine. My spend per week would be £91 (£4.7K per year). Minimum pricing comes in and my weekly spend increases by just over £40 to £140.83 (£7.3Kper year). That spend increase is based on the assumption that I always bought by alcohol at the minimum price I could find. This was definitely not always the case. I often bought from convenience stores and would be paying a considerable amount more. The price didn’t matter, having the alcohol did.
The minimum pricing as quoted above, even if I had taken it on board would not have bothered me in the slightest. I may not have even noticed. That said, if I was a drinking the premium strength cider, I probably would have noticed. Would it have made a difference in the amount I bought? For me, personally I doubt it. I was able to afford it. Even if I was on a tighter budget, I am sure I would have found a way. I would simply have cut back on other things. My drinking budget was of primary importance and definitely a priority.
I now recognise the importance of any initiative to encourage people to cut down on their alcohol consumption, or indeed and other addictive and harmful substance. I am not convinced that this is it. There will be many who will not notice the change in pricing in their budget. Many drink a premium spirit when they indulge and a decent bottle of wine will cost at least £5 (on offer!) Families on a lower budget will. This is not necessarily because they are high consumers of alcohol, but because they enjoy the occasional drink like many. Both sensible and problematic consumption are not specific to household income. Therefore, is it fair to penalise those who are on a lower income who like to enjoy the odd tipple, or even those on a higher income?
Let’s not also forget, for those who are dependent on alcohol, who can longer afford it, they will find a way of satisfying their need. This in itself is a danger. There could be an increase in crime, the theft of alcohol, not only by alcoholics, but those who have identified a demand and a need for supply? Alcohol is easy to produce. Vodka is made from potatoes. Wine can be made from almost anything. Will we see an increase in home-brewing? Let’s face it all the prison dramas demonstrate how easy it is to make! Joking aside, could we find dangerous concoctions out there that people are drinking out of desperation? Could we simply be creating new problems?
Finally, not to be forgotten, a simple trip across the border into England or Wales solves any problem the price increase has caused.
It is a difficult one. There are many perspectives and all have their own validity. How do we measure it? There are so many factors that will influence any measure. We know that the millennial generation are drinking less. We know that there is a lot more awareness about the dangers of drinking, particularly its contribution to a range of cancers.
Alcohol dependents. The addicts among us. We are a minority. There are still too many of us, but we are still a minority. Addicts will find a way. I know I would, regardless of price.
The next question maybe should be the pricing of non-alcoholic alternatives? They are as expensive as their alcoholic equivalents. Even in a sober state, I am still an addict. I cannot survive on tea, water, diet coke and orange juice. I want to enjoy what I consume……. One for another day!