Whether or not David Cameron rushed forward today’s move on alcohol pricing to distract from the granny tax row, I am pleased he has shown that the issue of Britain’s drink problem is firmly on the agenda.
When I was making a recent Panorama on ‘Britain’s Hidden Alcoholics’ I was aware that the Prime Minister and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley were on different sides of this argument. Cameron having given Lansley a lot of leeway in relation to the Health and Social Care Bill, he clearly decided this time he would lead the way.
It is a controversial move, one which will anger the well organised alcohol lobbies, and drinkers who manage to drink reasonably and responsibly and will feel they are being punished for the behaviour of a minority. But just as the country finally had to face up to the health risks of smoking, surely the time has come to face up properly to the damage alcohol does to people’s health, work, families and communities. It is time too to ask why so many Brits seem to want fairly regular doses of oblivion.
As I have been reminded on twitter this morning, just as ex-smokers can become the fiercest anti-tobacco voices(guilty), so reformed drunks (guilty) can become what one twitterer called ‘a pain in the arse.’
But if there was one thing researching Panorama showed me it was that we are kidding ourselves if we think alcohol abuse is a problem for a small minority.
Of course people who are already finding their living standards squeezed will be hacked off at a further hike in the cost of booze. But the other thing my film showed up is that for all the focus on binge drinking in pubs ands clubs, and the violence that goes with it, the real boom has been in drinking at home, with alcohol both cheap and in ever ready supply.
Every major cause of death via smoking, thanks to science and the NHS, and thanks to government action, is on the decline. Liver disease is going in the opposite direction. People are getting it younger, and women have caught up with men. It is an epidemic.
Pricing is one way to address it. Looking at the marketing is important. So is education in schools and through the media. There has to be cultural change too from a situation we have today where in most social circles, it is the non drinker rather than the drinker who feels under pressure to explain why they’d rather not.
Someone who takes a different point of view protested to me that Britain has always been a drinking nation and always will be. Maybe. But my sense is of the country bombarded with a tsunami of marketing, sitting on a boozequake, and unless we face up to it, we will pay a far heavier price than a rise on supermarket beer, wine and spirits.
do you have any tips on giving up alcohol? 😉
First the smoking ban, now Minimum pricing. Seems Holyrood may have things to teach Westminster
Well said. The UK’s issues with alcohol always seem to always go in the “too hard to fix” bucket. We need to start somewhere – the head in the sand approach has been going on for too long.
Couldn’t disagree with a single point…
what concerns me is that this price rise will do nothing to tackle the problem. If it helped, I would be more than happy to pay extra for my occasional drinks – or drink slighly less often, but whether the kids out “binge drinking” tonight will be affected in the slightest, I wouldn’t hold my breathe.
You are correct that it is a social change that’s needed and that’s a much more thorny problem than alcohol being too cheap.
You mention cultural change, which I agree is desperately needed. How can we achieve this though?
Quite right Mr Campbell, unfortunately I doubt that pricing action will have much more than a marginal effect. It is a deep seated cultural problem which has become steadily worse over the last 20 years.
Perhaps the answer lies more in education, health warnings on bottles and cans and a concerted and lengthy publicity campaign.
Surely, penalising the 99% of sensible drinkers to raise the price to what, ostensibly, might only cost a binge drinker an additional £10 – £20 per month is not a sensible approach. It appears to me that we are tackling the symtom not the cause….
Whilst the health and social issues of excessive drinking need addressing, I am greatly concerned by the lack of any evidence that the measures being proposed will have the desired effect.
Alcohol consumption has fallen in recent years and any evidencehealth effects of this will take some time to become apparent, so I would question the timing of this pricing policy.
On the social (or indeed, antisocial) effects of alcohol, the means to combat this already exist. I would ask how many licensed premises have been prosecuted for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person in the last year ? I genuinely do not know the answer to this, but I strongly suspect the number is not high.
Sorry Alistair, but all the evidence on consumption is against you as are the questionable NHS statistics which conflate primary and secondary causes of illness.
If a group of clubbers are “preloading” on vodka, whether at £8 a bottle or £16 a bottle will make damn all difference. These kids spend £tens of pounds on an evening out, the proposed increase is not going to deter them. The necessary change in culture will take generations.
Local taxes of £1 per glass/shot would go some way to paying for policing and A&E. Anybody over age of forty venturing into City centres at weekends has no idea of the warzones we have tollerated to grow over the last twenty years.
To date the clubs themselves have not been encouraged to become part of the communities they are destroying.
Rubbish. Punish the majority – again. This is about tax rasing and nothing more. Want to cure the problem ?, those idiots treated by the NHS for being drunk, including those patched up after a scrap – the HNS bills them for all ttreatments including ambulances is used at American commercial levels. The behaviour will stop pdq when a night out sets you back three grand. But no, tax tax tax – nanny state rules supreme. A continuation of New Labour by other means
It does take a bold heart to address this directly, to take it out of the shadows, away from platitudes and generalisations and face it on a personal level. Just because one does not reach extremes, misbehave, create a public nuisance or get drunk does not mean one is free from excess.
I found it easy to drink daily for years – not drunk but drinking over hours, slowly. I ceased to notice, really. An awareness of empty calories as I tried to get fit for my charity cycling rides for Mind actually spurred me to follow the numbers game and guidelines – one drink pre-supper 5 times max per week. I fixate on numbers so this was fine.
The pressures in public – family events, whilst socialising, restaurants etc. are remorseless. As are people’s preconceptions of how one will behave in certain situations. I don’t eat meat either and delight to live on fish, fruit and veg but that is another kettle of… well, anyway.
The past year has taught me much about health, diet and exercise – much to my surprise and that of those around me. It has helped far more than I could imagine with physical health, emotional equilibrium and mental balance amidst the swirling depression and anxiety.
Sorry to ramble – again I entirely commend Mr. Campbell for his example, communication and leadership here.
George Osborne is now seen as the Sheriff of Nottingham who robs grannies and gives money to bankers.
Even the Telegraph, Mail and Express have critizised him.
The narrative out of the budget is one of rich being treated with silk gloves.
But cuts in real pay, benefits and tax credits and unemployment drive down living standards for the majority.
In 1973 top rate was 75%. Denis Healey raised it to 83%.
Then in 1979 Howe reduced it to 60% where it remained for nine years.
1988 Nigel Lawson reduced it to 40%. Then in 2009 AD increased the top rate tax to 50p.
The impact of cutting the 50p rate is uncertain. OBR says that the best rate is 48%.
1.3m extra people will now be driven into 40p bracket.
The Laffer curve only kicks in when people are taxed at 70%.
British companies have a cash surplus of 6% of GDP, the largest in the world. But they are not investing.
Between 2001-10 top UK firms distributed 88% of their profits to shareholders.
Welfare budget is £214bn, of which £94bn goes to pensions.
Welfare will be cut by £18bn, with an extra £10bn to follow.
720,000 public sector jobs will go.
There will be deep cuts also in 2016 and 2017.
My moment of the week was when I realised reading the OBR outlook that the UK debt in 2014-15 will be £1,365tn, in 2015-16 £1,437tn and in 2016-17 £1,479tn.
So the debt continues to rise!
2014-15 UK debt will be 76.3% of GDP.
Of 400 people earning £10m only 16% pay any tax at all!
Just watched clips from This Week.
Cabinet ministers are paid £134,565 including £65,738 MP salary. PM gets £142,500.
Osborne owns 15% of Osborne and Little, a wallpaper company. 2010 he got £220k as dividend.
The salary of Ed Miliband is £139,355.
Philip Hammond is beneficiary of trust which owns Castlemead Ltd.
Lord Strathclyde is a member of Lloyds of London.
Ps. The chairman of GlaxoSmithKline is a former chairman of Young Conservatives. Rothschilds control Glaxo through BlackRock (5.96%) and Legal & General (3.44%).
I doubt that the level of price rise that the government is proposing will make any difference whatsoever. In principle, they are right, but they will go for a level of price rise such as will not have a significant impact. Most of us can probably remember our student days, when we were poor but would always find money for serious drinking. The notion that somebody who wants to get hammered at home will be made to think twice because a bottle of bargain-basement whiskey costs an extra £1 or £1.50 is fatuous. We should be looking at really steep price increases, which have been a major factor in making a lot of people reassess whether or not they really want to smoke.
‘Time for Britain to face up to drink problem’ says Alistair Campbell.
No mention why for 13 years the Labour government did not tackle it. This is becoming a pattern, ex government and associated people who did nothing about things like massive Immigration, falling Education standards, increasing youth unemployment have now decided that now is the time to call for all these things to be tackled. I wonder why?
There is some logic to this, but what next? Higher tax on fatty foods?
There is no doubt that fatty foods kill… but there is no doubt that raising their price will hit the poor hardest. Is that the role of the labour party?
Though perhaps we can mitigate the fatty food problem, because before we do our forced labour (mandatory workfare) Mein Fuhrer Cameron and Kommandant Miliband can force us to do mandatory exercise at gunpoint too.
I’m libertarian on this. If people want to damage themselves with drink or drugs – they should be allowed to. If they try to damage others – they should get smashed. (And not in that way.) It works in New York.
If only there were a British Giuliani – Yvetter Cooper perhaps?
Yep its against human nature, and like all unnatural policies it will fail. Its like ignoring gravity and sticking your furniture to the ceiling.
Sorry to be crude but teenagers (and a lot of others) will always want to meet up and shag each other, and they will always use whichever substances help them to do that at whatever cost.
Great blog, highlighting the fact that most issues with alcohol are not resulting in the small minority who are binge drinking in pubs/clubs and behaving antisocially, but that drinking in the home and the effects on families particularly on relationships and children is rapidly increasing. Andrew Neil in particular missed this point entirely on the politics show today.
The parent support courses that I deliver for parents who have issues are with alcohol are becoming more in demand than even 12 months ago. Parents on limited incomes tell me time and time again that booze on special offer (often sold as loss leaders by the supermarkets) entice them to buy more with the initial belief that it will last them longer but they find that they drink it just as quickly because it’s there in the house……asking to be imbibed (remember the drink me label on the bottle in Alice in Wonderland).
For anyone struggling to get a grip on their drinking this poem might help……I often am asked for a copy of it for parents on the course, I don’t know who wrote it and I’ve added a bit to it.
Alcohol – The great remover
Alcohol will remove stains from clothing,
It will also remove spring, summer, autumn and winter clothing from a man, his wife and children if used in sufficient quantities.
Alcohol will remove furniture from the home, rugs from the floor, food from the table, lining from the stomach, vision from the eyes and judgement from the mind.
Alcohol will also remove reputations, jobs, friends, happiness and children’s hearts, sanity, freedom and a man’s ability to adjust and live with his neighbour.
It will remove children from their parens and it even removes life it’self.
As a remover of things, alcohol has few equals.
What does that have to do with this article?
Hi Tom, I have lots of tips for giving up alcohol. One tip is to get support from a local agency, such as AA or contact your local library for local groups. You don’t say how much you are drinking and is it at home or when you are out with friends. Try to cut down gradually, have a soft drink, cola or orange juice between each alcoholic drink. Try to change your habits, such as if you have a bottle of wine or 8 cans each night when you get in, then your time needs to be filled with something else. Such as learning a new skill, sport, hobbies etc. Do a course at night school something completely different to what you normally do, Judo, photography. Painting, or learning french, Do you have children? Do you have a partner? I can give lots of support but will need to know a little more in order to give a more comprehensive answer.
The wearing of seat belts and drink driving are two good examples of how accepted norms of behaviour can be challenged and changed pretty quickly by highly effective, high-profile campaigns. However, I just can’t see it working for drunken behaviour. Middle lane motorway drivers would be top of my list for behavioural change – a few public executions should do the trick!
Just heard half bottle of vodka would be increased in price from £4.80 to £5.20. That will stop the preloaders in their tracks will it, Mr Cameron? It is not even a gesture!
Duncan, you are not rambling. What you write makes very good sense imho. e.g. a healthy diet with little or no alcohol is a very good way to live. The benefits in terms of physical and mental health are enormous.
It sounds to me that you have insight into your condition and that’s half the battle! Your mention of swirling depression and anxiety struck a cord with me. I remember only too well the waves of fear that kept sweeping over me some thirty years ago now, when I had depression and anxiety. I wouldn’t wish those feeling of fear and terror on my worst enemy. I believe from your previous posts that your particular condition is a little more complex, but you will get better. Much of the time it seems like one step forward, two steps back, I know. But you will ‘heal’ eventually.
You seem a little self-critical at times. Perhaps you could learn to be a bit ‘nicer’ to yourself. You are still here with your family, your local community and on this blog. That wouldn’t be the case if you were a weak person. So you obviously have strength of character which you should be proud of. We are all valuable in one way or another in life’s rich tapestry.
I think if I was buying and drinking a couple of bottles of wine a week, I would know I was in trouble. And if I was about to make that three a week, I’d want someone to stop me. However, I’m susceptible to the argument that the rich don’t have their drinking habits interfered with so what is different about those who are not well off?
Similarly, are we going to turn this argument to food and say that certain junk foods – so very often the diet of the less well off – should be priced out of harm’s way? We are seeing an epidemic of obesity which is, frankly, no less scary than rampaging drunks. The government shows no sign of wanting to educate and inform the public on health issues. I’m afraid I remain sceptical of the idea that the pricing of alcohol alone shows an understanding of the problem.
Ha brilliant, I’ve just heard a joke about this. First of all I’d like to point out that when this was first mooted, I pointed out that those of us with an Irish connection will start making a fortune from poteen (moonshine).
Gorbachev (who was for the most part not a moron but behaved like one on this) tried this system too of hiking price/tax on vodka.
Russian Boy “Daddy does this mean you will drink less?”
Russian Father “No it means you will eat less.”
There was a moonshine boom in Russia after that apparently.
Obviously I am not remotely surprised that the Government has gone out of its way to reassure the middle classes that nice, decent, professional people living in nice, decent, leafy suburbs will not be affected by this as they tuck into their pate de foie gras in Hampstead restaurants. And indeed, why should they be? Because we all know that alcoholism only affects people who live on sink estates and are on welfare – it’s completely unheard of among doctors, teachers and business people. If there is one thing that unites middle-class Lefties and middle-class Righties, it is their shared and unshakeable conviction that any problem – whether it is excessive drinking or their touching little fantasies about so-called ‘global warming’ – must invariably be solved in such a way as to ensure that those who pick up the heftiest part of the bill are not the middle classes, but those at the very bottom of the heap, who are most demonised and least able to pay. Thankfully, most of them don’t vote – so really, who cares anyway?
Huh? This blogpost is about alcohol & you prattle on about the budget.
Perhaps you are trying to tell us that when you’ve drunk too much, you end up posting in the wrong blog? If so, your point is well made sir.
If you drink too much, you may end posting in the wrong blog.
The Bullingdon Club was of course a role model for sensible and responsible drinking of the kind David Cameron was trying to promote when he was marketing cheap alcoholic drinks targeted at the young.
The trouble is that, in addition to the ingrained hypocrisy of the Prime Minister, this comes across as yet another attack on young people, especially those from less-well-off backgrounds. In addition to facing mass unemployment or possible huge debts from student loans they aren’t even going to be allowed to enjoy themselves.That’s a factor that doesn’t get mentioned much – people do actually enjoy having a drink, and this attack on binge culture is seen as an attack on pleasure. Some pleasures should be attacked of course – killing for pleasure is one, as exemplified by fox-hunting, which has nothing whatsoever to do with pest control, as its practitioners well know.
As AC rightly says, the more hidden drinks epidemic takes place under cover, in middle class homes. I can’t remember a time when there hasn’t been yob culture on the streets, and no amount of price-raising is going to stop that. And it was the same under full employment as under mass unemployment. Yesterday’s yobs probably dry out and join Neighbourhood Watch a couple of decades on.
The Tory party is up to its neck in the drinks industry so I don’t expect any great breakthroughs from them in tackling the nation’s drink problems. They will make a lot of noise about a bit of tinkering, just as they are doing about tackling bonus culture and making the rich pay their taxes.
Yes there is a serious health problem and it costs the NHS a lot of money and time, but if we start coming across as puritanical we’re just going to drive people, especially young people, to more drink. We’re also manufacturing a dangerous generation gap in which baby boomers are perceived to be living it up and doing fine while young people are being debt-saddled and denied even the opportunity to enjoy being young.
By the way, Thanks, AC, for the ‘Moment of the Week’ spot on Andrew Neil’s show last night, the moment being the passing of the Health and Social Care Bill.
It looks like the point that Goebbels made about addressing the non-binge drinker has been missed by everyone here so far.
What the govt. wants is for EVERYONE to reduce their alcohol consumption or if possible eliminate completely. The health angle is a pretty convincing reason to do so. Obviously, they cannot say this directly because it would come across as authoritarian. One of the most effective ways that a democratic govt. can do this is through price control. When I say democratic, I mean that in a generic sense, as in electorally.
If this reduces binge drinking, then that is a bonus because for binge drinkers, price will never be the issue. Just like the tax on cigarettes will never eliminate smoking completely but has reduced the number of people smoking.
As a teetotaller myself, what happens with alcohol is completely irrelevant to me and I really don’t care.
Er, Olli, we’ve moved on. Different topic.
With a Tory spokesperson on in the background (Newsnight, of course) it seems that the Conservatives are trying to distract attention from the disastrous Osborne budget. I know you have a particular interest in the country’s drink problem, Alastair, but I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned the underlying tactics in May’s announcement today. I think Yvette Cooper was absolutely on the money in describing this as an attempt to get people talking about something else. This is perfunctory moralising – it isn’t as if the government has a proper raft of measures to tackle the problems you understand rather better than they do.
scooke7, why did you have to ruin an otherwise very sensible post by using the ‘G’ word again. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!
You obviously didn’t see the Panorama programme AC did on this subject when the question of extended drinking hours (introduced under Labour) was discussed – he conceded that, attractive as the ‘cafe culture’ was, the UK was not apparently able to embrace the drinking habits of the continent and consume alcohol in moderation.
Just for you, my dear, just for you.
This has been the most depressing week in terms of the actions of that House in the smoke that I have experienced in a long while, on concerns of where we are going as a country – friday comes and I need a drink as never, and then POW!, they want to stick more taxes on that.
How much will the Treasury make on this “40p an unit”? Haven’t heard anyone mention that yet. All very laudible as a suggestion, but the time and place? Pathetic. And brewers are only just getting back onto their feet after Thatcher’s alcopops generation, and now this.
Don’t think it is only teenagers reaguns. Haven’t you heard, STDs are sky rocketing with the over-50s, and the figures for the over-65s will make you choke on your bourbons with your cup of tea.
Go for a two week holiday to, say, Saudi Arabia, and stay in local hotels. Different, but it will work for that start, to get you over that bump.
I do, of course, agree with Gilliebc – a good post wasted through snide & failed possible humour.
However – unfortunately – alcohol and ghastly tobacco do affect us all through our shared health, legal and social costs.
One does not need to drink to pay for alcohol – we all do through emergency services, it is said an enormous percentage of the cost of all of these services can be attributed to alcohol use and abuse as can medical costs borne by us all be due to tobacco and alcohol.
Alas, this is far greater than a personal choice but it is, self-evidently, an enormous social question that required to be addressed in many ways by us all
All the best,
Well, not Thatcher’s alcopops generation actually accurately, alcopops was introduced to get them over Thatcher’s E generation, if you get what I mean, low flying aircraft overhead for some, no doubt. Trust me, I know what I am talking about, honest, as here,
Lol, you are too kind!
No but that’s rather encouraging! Obviously I don’t want to catch any STDs when I’m older but I want to retain the ability to catch them!
I expect I’ll still drink then, but the only hard drug I’ll use is viagra… (sorry!)
Right I’ve lowered the tone enough, I’m off to do a bit of “pre-loading”!
Some other signs of a problem:
Having a personal wine cellar.
Having a 1950’s/1960’s bar counter in the front room
Having Davenports “Beer at Home” lorries stopping outside the front door.
(OK the last two are giving my age away and city of youth.)
The first thing that happens when you’re drinking alcohol is that you lie to yourself. You think your level of drinking is OK. You compare yourself to friends who drink more than you.
You always believe you are in control of your drinking – that you do not need to stop and can stop at any time.
You also fail to calculate the true monetary cost of what you drink – often excluding the “socially responsible” taxis, the late night meals and the rest that probably would not be there but for the booze.
Unless the government is prepared to be much firmer with the brewers than they are at the moment we’ll continue to see the profits being privatised but the costs socialised – and where have we seen that before?
Minimum pricing is wrong I tells ya.
If we manage to stop the kids from boozing on a weekend I promise you they will find another way to p*ss us off with their behaviour and consumption. Its their role in society. At least we don’t have to arrest them if we find them in possession of drink – we just have to gaze on them disapprovingly, or pick them up from hospital and tell them what they have already concluded.
I wonder will we see an interesting blog from Alastair regarding lobbying, £250k meetings with Cameron etc – or an even more interesting silence…
Pretty good performance by Ed Balls on Andrew Neil. Neil set the usual traps and Ed walked into them as usual, but he is relaxed now as he realises that only people who understand economics realise what garbage he talks, so politically its a good performance, even if in reality he is a complete shyster.
David Miliband on the other hand put in a very very strong performance on Andrew Marr (rather a lot easier I know) but he was absolutely spot on regarding funding.
I reckon they should have democratic funding. Every voter should be allowed a maximum of £10 to fund the party and that should be all the parties get, no unions, no millionaires.
It was when I found myself seriously considering the notion that Ed Miliband might one day be prime minister that I knew the drinking really had to stop.
Port after dinner arguement. My worry is strength, everything in a pint glass should be below 4%. But saying that, when I was in the Tyrol, beer was top quality, wherever you went. But the wine there was like watered down glue though.
You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.
errr… just in case any one is interested in facts. Alcoholsim is much worse in France than in the UK. You don’t have to believe me, you can look it up on the internet (particularly in women but in men too).