IT’S THE scourge of our society, the pulsating disease rampaging through the streets of our deprived seaside town, blanketing well-to-do families and mutating their offspring into wild, enraged animals that will start a fight with anyone or anything using whatever means necessary and no matter the odds. Like a malignant tumour, the spectre of alcohol is growing in its toxicity, haunting the minds of the youth of the nation where access to alcohol is easier than ever – and cheaper.
Or is it? It seems former reflexologist Cllr Susan Fowler thinks so, and she should know, since she’s on some sort of board of people that think they know stuff about binge drinking and the price of booze.
Whilst the latest JD Wetherspoon pub is under construction on Market Street and the new Revolution vodka bar (which, incidentally, is likely to offer cheap two-for-one cocktails like its other bars do) is being fitted out just a few metres down the road, Cllr Mrs Fowler has come up with an amazing, innovative way of reducing the levels of binge drinking in Blackpool. No, no, dear readers, she’s not going to stop the opening of more and more bars as the Conservatives promised in their 2007 manifesto. Don’t be silly. No, Mrs Fowler has instead decided to follow the course her Great Leader took when the massive, front-loaded cut to the council settlement was announced by the government.
Susan Fowler’s protest against the perceived drinking culture is to send a letter to an MP. Emmeline Pankhurst she is not.
That’s right though, folks, as the ink falls on to that crisp town hall emblazoned papyrus to be folded by hand and delivered at taxpayers expense, the Conservatives are approving more and more drinking establishments in Blackpool with the total approaching an almost unbelievable two thousand bars, though as ever with the pointless Gasjet this is a totally misleading figure designed to scare people into believing the problem is bigger than it is. Why? Well, think how many guesthouses and B&B’s there are in Blackpool. Most of them have bars.
But guess what, this figure is taken at face value by those people like Susan Fowler who are appointed and paid to nanny us and tell us that we’re all living unhealthy lifestyles, just like Labour did. Does she not realise that this kind of crap is straight out of Lewis Carroll’s greatest unpublished work, Susan In Wonderland, where everyone’s a mixed race, public sector working Muslim homosexual hermaphrodite scaffolder that guzzles the latest and greatest PC nanny state garbage being defecated out of Whitehall?
I should add that Cllr Mrs Fowler’s hard-hitting letter was backed by the head of medicine at Blackpool Victoria Hospital. Yes, a doctor, who might well be an expert on the outcomes of alcohol abuse, but looking at the amount of money he’s on, his immense pension pot and unbeatable job security, he probably isn’t an expert on the socio-economic factors which drive people to glugging huge bottles of super strength booze.
The only reason most of us know about binge drinking is because people like Susan Fowler in conjunction with barrel-scraping media outlets keep telling us that it exists. What is a binge drinker though? Someone who drinks a certain quantity of booze in a certain time. According to the NHS, I am a binge drinker, because at the weekend I might have a few beverages that total more units than the artificially set recommended amount. I bet most councillors are the same. I bet most NHS staff are the same. The Gasjet reckons 28% of Blackpool residents are alcohol abusers and binge drinkers. Could it be the case that the 28% are those that actually have jobs and can afford to?
Anyway, what did Cllr Mrs Fowler’s conundrum spell out to the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley? Dead simple, Cllr Mrs Fowler predictably wants to increase the price of booze, and according to the Gasjet, a bunch of boffins in several North West authorities have been flexing their cerebra for over a year to come up with this stellar conclusion. The devil is in the detail, though, because unlike the government who want to push through a pretty pointless 21p minimum price per unit of booze, Susan Fowler wants to increase this control mechanism to 50p.
Under the current government proposals a box of fifteen 440ml cans of Carling with 1.8 units per can could be sold at a minimum of £5.67. As we know, nowhere sells it that cheap, so prices of beer in supermarkets would remain very, shall we say, consumer friendly. When the cheap deals come around, they usually amount to boxes of 15 cans of Carling, Strongbow, Boddingtons, John Smiths, and numerous other drinks for £8, or three boxes for £20 (£6.66 per box).
This still wouldn’t come close to the government-imposed price limit, which is good. However it would pump the price of a 3 litre bottle of extra-strong Frosty Jack cider (22.5 units) up from a couple of quid to £4.75: probably not going to stop chavs buying it and binge drinking. Under Susan Fowler’s proposition, though, this cider would cost £11.25 – considerably more.
It therefore seems like a logical progression to start artificially inflating the price of booze so that little Sophie Websters can’t afford to get obliterated on ci-dah and take a leap of faith from a church roof – but what about the overwhelming majority of people that do not drink alcohol to excess? As always, we’re all going to have to pay more for the privilege, just so that we save the minority that harm themselves via abuse of alcohol.
Based on the crates of fifteen 440ml cans of lager, cider or bitter for £8 that most supermarkets do whenever there’s a reason to drink, Susan Fowler’s proposals will increase the price of a can of bog standard lager by 68%. Sixty eight percent.
Off her trolley
The big downside of minimum pricing relies on the financial means of the customer. Consider the following;
- A price of £11.25 might put kids off buying a 3 litre bottle of cider, but what’s stopping them buying a 2 litre one?
- A professional with a stressful job that wants to get annihilated isn’t going to be deterred by the £11.25 price tag of a 3 litre bottle of cider, because they want to get leathered and to take it out of their means would take it out of the means of almost everyone, costing the government a fortune in tax and pissing off everyone else.
- Pushing the price of 15 lagers up to over £13 isn’t going to put a gang of lads off buying a few of them and getting tanked up before they go out because it’s still far cheaper than buying pints of beer in any pub in Britain.
- What if one is an alcohol addict? How do you afford to get your fix? The same way hard drug addicts do, perhaps.
Once minimum pricing starts on one consumer item, it will start appearing on other things that the government deems are too unhealthy for us, like crisps, chocolate, fast food, pub and restaurant meals, soft drinks, and so on. We all know these things are unhealthy, but we’re in a “boy who cried wolf” situation. They tell us more or less everything is unhealthy these days, and as such, nobody takes any notice any more. But is it right to allow the government to act as the Thought Police in pushing these kind of policies until the Health Secretary is deciding what we have for breakfast each day?
If we do adopt a minimum pricing model, where does the artificial price stop? What if the minimum price of booze goes up to 50p a unit and nothing changes? Like an Ivan Pavlov experiment, do they continue to increase it by 50p a unit until it has the desired effect?
It’s clear to me that if the government and Susan Fowler want to reduce binge drinking they need to address the root cause and this is massively situational. She also needs to decide what exact problem she is trying to solve with these measures. Is it the cost to the NHS of treatment, is it the alcohol related violence, or is it something else?
There are downsides to overconsumption of anything. Depressed women watching Bridget Jones’ diary scooping Ben and Jerry’s Baked Alaska into their mouths is clearly an example of bingeing and is unhealthy, but I don’t see the government or Susan Fowler wanting to ram up the price of ice cream. If it’s so important to try to affect the consumption of alcohol by pushing the price up, why ignore everything else which is deemed unhealthy?