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Drink now, pay later

Nick Robinson | 09:34 UK time, Monday, 16 March 2009

Last night, as I took another gulp of red, I began to wonder if I'd had one too many when I heard ministers and those who hope to be ministers lining up to say that the law-abiding tippling majority should not be forced to pay for the binge-drinking minority. Surely, I thought, they're planning to slap more tax on booze anyway?

Beer drinkerThis, I can confirm, was not the product of an alcohol-induced haze.

The pre-Budget report increased the duty on alcohol by 8%. This, the chancellor said, was to offset the cut in VAT from 17.5% to 15%. However, when VAT goes back up at the end of this year there is no plan to cut alcohol duty again.

Even if there were, the last Budget hiked the price of beer up by 4p a pint, wine by 14p a bottle and spirits by 55p a bottle - that's 6% above the rate of inflation.

What's more, Alistair Darling announced a booze duty escalator when he announced that duties on alcohol will go up by 2% above inflation in each of the next four years.

The Tories' Social Justice Commission recommended that tax on alcohol should rise by as much as 10% to combat the binge-drinking culture producing headlines about 7p on a pint of beer.

Its author Iain Duncan Smith said there was almost an "epidemic" of binge drinking among children adding that "it is time for us to look at readjusting the price to bring it back in line with pricing that existed on alcohol before". The Tory leadership shied away from that but promised to hike the duty on alcopops and strong cider.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has called for the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol.

So, picture the scene. We're in the chancellor's office in the run-up to the first Budget after the election. Whoever's living at No 11 knows that money - lots of money - has to be raised in tax.

Do you think, just possibly, that a rise in the tax on alcohol might make it into the Budget speech given that it can be presented as a measure with all-party support designed to improve health and combat anti-social behaviour and not merely a tax rise?

Of course, the argument for a minimum price which Sir Liam Donaldson is making today - to stop shops selling booze at a loss - is rather different from that for a tax rise. However it's done though, the price of alcohol is on the way up.


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  • Comment number 1.


    I think you're right in highlighting the issue that whilst all parties accept that taxes will rise (the debate as to how and why we are in this mess can continue elsewhere) the key is trying to make the tax rises seem palatable.

    If I were an opposition party I would accept Sir Liam Donaldson's recommendation of a minimum price per unit but promise to remove the alcohol tax escalator thereby being seen to be against the supermarkets loss leading tactics whilst helping pubs and more general drinking habits.

  • Comment number 2.

    Fair enough , but why not put a levy on supermarket alcohol to help subsidise rural pubs (or at least those which provide a service to the community)?

  • Comment number 3.

    Blame the supermarkets. They are using alcohol as a loss-leader. The cost of an equivalent amount of alcohol in pubs is a lot higher. If we add extra tax to all alcohol it will simply cause even more pubs to close. Supermarkets are powerful to soak up the tax increase anyway.

  • Comment number 4.

    There are about 40 pubs closing each week at the moment. Significant tax increases on beer etc could make this worse.

    On the other hand, stopping Tescos selling booze cheap might help the ailing (sorry) pub businesses.

    We need to get this right as I can't carry on keeping 20 - 30 pubs afloat single-handed.

    So minimum price = good
    Tax rise = bad

    Job done.

  • Comment number 5.

    Why should they listen to this particular expert any more than they have listened to others? The recent debates on cannabis re both its dangerous drugs lassification and as a painkiller for those with incurable diseases illustrates that facts and data are of no interest to this government.

    Appearance and "spin" is all they really care about but I have long ceased to take any notice of anything they say. Very little of it turns into action that delivers anything that matters.

    By the way NIck do you happen to know if any cabinet ministers have either a science or essentially technical qualification beyond gcse?

  • Comment number 6.

    People drink to forget the mess that this government have wrought on us.

    People drink to forget the stress that this government dump on them.

    People drink to forget the oppression that this government impose on them.

    Brown has the solution in his hands -- if only he was man enough to do the decent thing and call a general election.

  • Comment number 7.


    As you point out, Sir Liam Donaldson is NOT advocating an increase in alcohol taxes.

    His proposal is actually, if you take out the politics and cynical electoral calculations, quite sensible.

    It would not increase the normal prices people pay in the shops or pubs. We are already paying much more than 50p a unit! And I doubt if 50p / unit is necessary or politically realistic - maybe 30p would be enough to make a real difference.

    It would however curtail the deliberate selling of booze at a loss by supermarkets. 99p for 2 litres of 6-7% alcohol cider is just encouraging young people to get paralytic!

  • Comment number 8.

    As if this is going to make any difference to anything, apart from closing yet more pubs, putting more people in the brewing industry out of work, and annoying every decent law-abiding citizen of the country who enjoys alcohol in sensible measures.

    Tax on alcohol should be halved - at the very least in out of town pubs. Town centre pubs where this is a problem, maybe it might make a difference but it probably won't. Off-licences and supermarkets who can afford loss-leaders, maybe but it probably won't.

    Bars in the Houses of Parliament also exempt from anti-smoking laws? Probably safe.

    Call an election.

  • Comment number 9.

    Nick Good old Gordon and his merry band of woodentops are just testing the water. They have to fill the big black hole in the public purse soon and wow! what do you know here's one big opportunity to do so. They know it's explosive stuff right now but watch out the tax snatcher's about.

  • Comment number 10.


    Well we've often suspected you of imbibing too much of the red, but surely the whole basis of Gordon Brown's taxation policy is that the law-abiding majority should subsidise the profligate few?

    To be serious for a minute, why not consider a tax on the other abusive substances of our times? Sugar, which is as addictive as alcohol and leads to obesity; and aspartame which leads to attention-deficiency and other serious health issues?

    Or is our anti-protectionist Government frightened on upsetting the big US soft-drink mega-corporations? (Sacrificing the nation's health in the process).

  • Comment number 11.

    Yes and dont be surprised to see a fat tax introduced on fast food for the same tenuous reasons...........

    Lets face it the country is broke we are heading into a depression and the perpetrators will enjoy a nice pension when we can eventually force them to retire !!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi Nick,

    Your eye were doing twirlies last night.

    Apparently, Gordon Brown is going to be very vocal in his opposition to Donaldson's recommendation.

    Oh dear. That will come back to haunt him (yet again) when duty rises, effectively meaning the same thing.

    Another outbreak of foot in mouth.

    See you in the pub.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    I can just hear the part in the speach

    "There have been calls for a minimum unit cost of 50p I have looked into those and on consultation beleive that a modist 10p per pint / bottle etc is a far fairer and lower cost solution......"

    Fingers crossed no one will realise how big a jump in price this will be as they'll all be thankfull that i didnt sent a price per unit!

  • Comment number 15.

    This Government is not completely bonkers, it has a certain cunning. Brown and his pals know that you can sell Britain down the river, allow fundamentalists to insult our brave army, pay out tax payers money to support same 'preachers' idle families, and prop up banks and send their bosses off with pensions that are more than any of us will earn in a life time of hard work. They can also interfere in every aspect of our lives, how we raise our children, how we discipline them, feed them, educate them etc etc. But one thing is sacred - the national weakness for alcohol. Only this probably stops a fundamentalist take-over of Britian. Do anything to the average Brit, but don't take his/her booze away. As we sink beneath the waves, Brown will raise a glass and toast his genius.

  • Comment number 16.

    Smart Price and Value whisky is going to go through the roof!

    How am I going to be able to afford to make the pain go away?

  • Comment number 17.


    your basic premise, regarding the need to raise taxes to pay for the financial mess, is flawed, as is the logic of the people you're trying to align yourself with.

    The more that taxes are raised the less money that people have to spend. In any event, where jobs are scarce, and getting scrarcer, there will be fewer people earning income at levels that may be taxed. Currently the government takes a lot of money in taxes from alcohol, particularly with regard to pub prices.

    If the issue is about cutting down alcohol abuse problems, the simply remove the licence to sell alcohol from all supermarkets.

    If the issue is simply, cynically, to raise revenue from supermarket sales by increasing their costs only, then this will have a detrimental effect on poorer people, who will not be able to meet increased costs, whilst not doing much to relove alcohol abuse problems.

  • Comment number 18.

    Nick says that whoever's living at No 11 knows that money - lots of money - has to be raised in tax.

    Does it?

    That sounds to me like a built-in assumption.

    A different view would be that if Government has less money coming in (and also resists the urge to 'print' the stuff) then that usually means that less taxpayers money would end up being wasted.

    In a place I am very familiar with, namely New Jersey, USA, the alcohol age limit is 21.

    It works surprisingly well.

    There are alternatives to more-and-more onerous taxes, which in my opinion, are now killing some businesses such as our beloved English pubs.

    That is something the politicians will never be forgiven for.

  • Comment number 19.

    Never waste a crisis.

  • Comment number 20.

    As for expert advice I remember one so called expert (well thats what he told us) that there would be no more boom to bust.

    There will be one underlying key to the next budget, for it moves tax it, if it grows tax it, if you eat or drink it tax it and if it stands still tax it.

  • Comment number 21.

    I need a drink, I've just agreed with something the Laughatthetories wrote!

  • Comment number 22.

    The knee-jerk authoritarianism of the British political establishment makes me want to vomit far more than the odd glass of Beaujolais, Armagnac or whisky that I am prone to imbibe.

    My question is do they want to force us back into home wine manufacture and the consumption of methylated spirits? How will they tax that?

    If they wish to cut down on binge drinking then they need to reverse a considerable number of measures they have implemented over the years at the behest of the supermarkets and at the expense of public houses.

    Pubs were once the best method of controlling the drinking habits of the country. They served real, breathing ale made from natural products, produced and served in a clean environment. If you drank too much you fell asleep. The odd bod might have got aggressive but he would be shown the door and refused service later on. The landlord had to prove to the licensing magistrates and the police that he kept an orderly house or he lost his licence.

    Over the past thirty years this system has suffered death by a thousand cuts. Now the civilising and social institution of the public house is in decline and the supermarket is in the driving seat with its white cider and promotions of foreign lager: things you never saw, let alone drank, thirty years ago.

    Having destroyed the institution that managed the drinking culture of the country, the state has now got what it wanted; or has it? Whatever, lets blame the proles and beat them up for being ignorant and whilst we are at it lets give the so-called middle class a guilt trip to get on with.

    Time for change: get this stupid state off our backs!

  • Comment number 23.

    One thing you forget to mention here Nick, is that the increase in price recommended by Sir Liam would not make its way back to the Exchequer as it is not a tax. It would actually just sit in the profit margins of the retailers. What government is ever going to sanction that sort of lunacy? Of course they support the premise, but they will need to do it the political way and tax us. Then they can claim the credit for the move and collect the benefit of the money.

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm a free marketeer on this one - no way should the government be setting the retail price of alcohol

    I don't like the heavy tax on it either - I would abolish that altogether in favour of a rise in, say, income tax on higher earners

  • Comment number 25.

    I think that there a two interwoven problems here. The binge drinking epidemic and the giveaway prices at supermarkets encouraging more drinking.

    The government needs to repeal the ludicrous licensing hours law that is the root of binge drinking and which causes A&E departments so much grief with the influx of drink-related injuries. That I suspect will remove 90% of the problem.

    Next, the government needs to address super markets using alcohol as some form of loss leader, by enacting a law which requires that any addictive substance (such as alcohol) cannot be sold at any price lower than cost of production (including transport etc.) plus X%. There would then be the usual taxes applied.

    Finally, the government needs to give leadership and take responsibility (something they are not keen on). Because we are in a depression, they cannot let the health of the nation decline because they do not wish to become even more unpopular with the drinking classes

  • Comment number 26.

    Although Brown appears 'cool' on the subject,he will not ignore the opportunity to raise taxes to pay for his mistakes.

    Expect there to be some measure which achieves this end,but packaged to target the binge drinking culture .In other words everybody will pay more.

    Alcohol Ration cards perhaps?...or a further levy on National Insurance to pay for the NHS costs?...or a combination of both?

    This lot will not be happy until they've broken the spirit (sorry) of this Country.

  • Comment number 27.

    Is it just me or has everyone lost the plot around here, putting the price up on alcohol will NOT stop drinking to excess, it won't stop the drunken yobs and it won't stop the addicted either. This is nothing more than another badly disguised tax grab, Darling and Brown are desperate for cash and drinkers, smokers and motorists are the easy targets as usual. Also, all these sanctimonious whingers who blame the supermarkets ought to look a little harder at the greedy co's and breweries who own the pubs, how many Weatherspoon's pubs are closing? A clue, pricing!

  • Comment number 28.

    Why is ministers and so called experts, think that a price rise is the answer to problems - congestion charges, tobacco, drink etc etc.
    This latest suggestion is plain ludicrous. Someone getting blathered on a 12 pints will have to get blathered on only 11 pints to save the hike in price figure - and lets face it, if you can afford to drink 12 pints or so, a few pence extra on a pint is not going to affect anyone.
    What is really needed is more custodial sentencing and of course the government cannot afford to build more prisons can they.

  • Comment number 29.

    The best move on binge drinking and alcohol consumption as whole would be to stop the supermarkets from selling alcohol.Alcohol should only be available from licensed premises - i.e. pubs,restaurants and of-licence shops and not in Tesco or any other supermarket,indeed no other outlet.

  • Comment number 30.

    This is typical. These people are so stupid. Increase the price and increase the smuggling making criminals richer. Just look at smoking. Also it will penalise cheaper brands as the larger companies are already on sale at the price quoted. People will only buy the more expensive brands putting less known brands out of business.

    It will not help the pubs either as there has always been cheap alcohol in supermarkets. The smoking ban killed the pubs and raising the price of alcohol in supermarkets will not bring smokers back.

    Finally, it will not reduce crime because the lawabiding people will just pay the prices but the teenage thugs and the alcoholics will commit more crimes to raise the money for the booze.

    Nip this idea in the bud immediately because it seems to me to be the same steps taken to dehumanise smokers and now that these health fascists have gotten where they wanted with smoking, they are turning their attention to drinkers.

    'When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out'. Regards to Pastor Martin Niemoller.

  • Comment number 31.


    The Government can plonk (excuse the pun) as much tax on alcohol as it likes,


    it CANNOT force a minimum price,

    "altogether now"

    ....because it's against EU Laws to have price fixing.

    I'm sorry to type like this but the absence of the EU dimension - in any reports especially on the BBC - on what we and can't do under EU Laws is frustrating to say the least

  • Comment number 32.

    Any ideas on the transparency of ministerial reporting of business interests or hasn't Mr. Rudd sent you a briefing note yet.

  • Comment number 33.

    I wonder how much money the parties would receive into their coffers if they told the supermarkets to abide by the licences granted to pub landlords?

    The laws are already there, why doesn't the government enforce them?

    If they simply increase the margins for the supermarkets surely they are simply going to say "thank you very much"

    To increase duty assumes that the UK market exists in a vacuum.

    In previous years it was known that the many booze cruisers were fuelling cheap black market alcohol and tobacco, but did the government hire more people to stop the influx? What do you do with the seized products? Now the supermarkets just buy off the "grey" market and make booze cruises less profitable unless you're also going to stock up on continental food too.

  • Comment number 34.

    History shows us when the economy is in a mess then Alchohol abuse is extreme especially among the poor , Brown wont want to change the status quo especially among those who he hopes will vote his party back in ( some chance).
    His is the party who introduced 24 hr drinking anyway in attempt to dull the populus in a boozy spin to not se the real mess they have made of this country .
    It is worse than Victorian Britain here now with another medical time bomb in 15- 20 years which this country will not be able to afford along with the catastophic economic mess which will haunt this country for genorations , still I am not worried I,m off down the pub

  • Comment number 35.

    Where do teenagers obtain the cash to buy booze, to buy fags, to buy drugs.

    We oldies have no idea, unless it is to raid mum's purse or the steal from further afield.

    The cost is not the problem - it is the availability !

    ( In any case, if the cost of booze went up, so would the incidence of youth crime - a statistic the Government would never put under our noses ! )

    So don't let the politicians scam us into thinking that even further tax hikes on booze will do any good to anyone.

    Except the Treasury of course.

  • Comment number 36.

    For myself, I am strongly opposed to this minimum pricing scheme. Why do we continually use price (and tax) as a mechanism to achieve prohibition (as, for example, with tobacco)? It really isn't something that has been shown to work.

    The key is education, otherwise all we will have is a stratum of society doing exactly what they do now - that is, drinking as much as they can afford.

    A big question, one that should be answered thoroughly and convincingly, is why do the French not have the same problem as we do with alcoholism or alcoholic excess, even though their prices are so much lower than ours? Frankly, if Donaldson hasn't, can't or won't answer that question, then he has not properly made his case for his preferred course of action.

  • Comment number 37.

    Ban cider or take the alcohol content down to around 2%. Ban alcopops.

    Binge drinking amongst the young would be halved at a stroke, simply because kids, and especially young girls, like sugary drinks.

  • Comment number 38.

    What are you saying, Nick? That we have cross-party consensus that Nanny Knows Best?

    More twaddle from the chattering classes who never leave the comfort of their Pinot Grigio.
    An alternative???
    1. Exit the ECHR
    2. Bring drinking age down to 14 or even less
    3. Bring age of criminal responsibility down to ditto. If they can drink and behave themselves, all well and good. If they can't - at whatever age - sling them in a suitably repulsive drunk tank till they can. Then fine or imprison them further if they are serial offenders.

    Radical? Looney?
    Many years ago, back in the 1950's, when I was not yet in my teens, my very wise Dad sat me down with me one evening and plonked two bottles of beer on the kitchen table. His reasoning was that I may as well drink in front of him as experiment behind his back. Like many of my age group I was, a few years later drinking under age in the local pubs. We all behaved - not because of government policies but because the landlord knew who we were and where our Dads were. To my knowledge, none of us grew up with drink problems.

    Later still, and now legal, I left home and began to mix with youths from other backgrounds. The ones who grew up with the biggest booze problems were invariably those who had been denied it at home. Some of the Scots and Irish lads were from teetotal homes and were in immediate trouble with the demon drink.

    There's no minimum price on coke, crack or cannibis yet it is all over our high streets - possibly because the youngsters who are taking it have lots of disposable income. Does Sir Liam really think that expensive booze is going to stop them. Meanwhile, the police, who should be tackling all this on our high streets, are not interested. They'd much prefer to hide away waiting for people to come out of a pub and get into a car. Far easier than having to do anything about the fourteen-year-old slumped drunk or doped in the gutter.

  • Comment number 39.

    If pubs stopped charging the same(if not more for non-alcholic drinks, people might start not only drinking alchol.

  • Comment number 40.

    Alcohol only to be sold in pubs no supermarket sale or offlicences. It is due to the ease of purchase at supermarket and offlicences that we have so much underage drinking.

  • Comment number 41.

    Our lookie-likie Silas Greenback Prime Minister Gordon would surely reach rock bottom if he even takes these suggestions seriously. Take action against those who sell the alcohol to the children (See Metro article on shops getting away with sales of alcohol to children). Charge people for treatment in hospitals if they get there because they get drunk. They would soon stop. This is a Government that supports the anti-social at the expense of the sensible. Does he want revolution in the streets?

  • Comment number 42.

    Drunken behaviour causes damage and more cost to society.
    Some of these costs can easily be attributed to certain offenders.

    Some costs can't.

    Therefore, a low level of alcohol taxation must be levied for the costs which can't be directly attributed.

    If you are admitted into hospital for binge drinking you cover the costs not the NHS (taxpayer). Equally if you throw up or have a fight in a town centre a caution comes with a substantial fine.

    If you are an alcoholic, then the state must provide help in managing your health issue in the same way that they would if you were HIV positive. No amount of tax hike will deter an alcoholic, it is an illness.

    Therefore, the irresponsible pay and the responsible don't.

    Pretty easy really!

  • Comment number 43.

    Some people really need to think about what's being suggested before spouting off about pubs closing etc. If set at 50p per unit, then this would make the minimum price of a pint £1. Please, direct me to the pub which currently sells (good quality) pints for under a pound, as I would love to visit it. This idea is aimed at the supermarkets, who are the ones that are driving pubs out of business, as people choose to get drunk at home on the cheap rather than going out to the pub. Just like supermarkets have driven independent butchers, fishmongers, bakers and the likes out of business.

    The thing that has ruined this country more than anything is people choosing price over quality.

  • Comment number 44.

    What a joy it is to see all these merry bloggers queuing up to have their say.

    On occasions I have nothing better to do than come on here to pontificate on some fairly trivial issues that I don't much care about - the economy, immigration, personal liberties, global warming etc and things can get a bit mundane.

    But here we have a topic close to all out hearts - the price of beer! if it goes above ?2.60 in my local I intend to take to the streets, or, better still, occupy my local. There are some things which can't be tolerated.

    It was bad enough when all those foreign beers started coming over here - taking our handpumps but this could spell the end of the British pub.

    Call an elecshun

  • Comment number 45.

    As much as I agree with the need to reduce alcohol consumption, particularly around binge drinking, I don't think that putting the price up will be successful on its own.

    I know plenty of people who go for a night out and in the morning are distressed at how much they have spent, but that doesn't stop them doing it again and again. After the first couple of drinks, they aren't going to think rationally about the price anyway.

  • Comment number 46.

    The trouble with this approach is the knock-on effects.

    Supermarkets can afford to sell alcohol cheaply because they shift so much of it. Pubs can't do likewise. So the kids have to pay a little more to get hammered on strong cider but at the same time the perfectly respectable folks who want a couple of beers and some chat at their local have to pay more as well.

    Of course none of this will have any effect at all on people who steal alcohol from shops and supermarkets anyway.

    The higher the local price of alcohol, the more people will be inclined to buy EU-sourced drinks. This not only deprives the Revenue of funds but also helps fund all sorts of unsavoury activity associated with cross-channel bootlegging.

    And as if these three reasons weren't enough, if someone is determined to get off their head they will find a way. If alcohol is increased in price to the point they can't afford it they will either steal the alcohol, turn to crime to fund it, or consume something else instead. Do we really want people sniffing glue instead of drinking because it's affordable?

  • Comment number 47.

    Surely the question that should be answered is WHY so many young people drink to excess, rarther than HOW they achieve it.

  • Comment number 48.

    Spot of Nick. This is softening up for next month's booze tax hike which can be spun under the laudable aim of trying to cut binge drinking etc.
    Meanwhile the government refuses to tackle the root cause and change back the licensing laws and put an end to cheap supermarket booze.
    That would require a government admitting to past mistakes.

  • Comment number 49.

    Apparantly i heard the government was thinking of taxing sex next.

    Mind you if i cant ply women with drinks any more thats unlikely to be a problem for me.

    cant drink
    cant smoke
    what can we do?

  • Comment number 50.

    Walked through Reading town centre at midnight last Saturday. Wetherspoons (the home of cheap booze) was empty and the seriously inebriated were falling out of the most expensive pubs in the town.

    People in their late teens/early twenties who are causing the binge problem have more disposable income than most of us - no mortgage, children etc. and spend it in the loudest, not the cheapest establishment.

    These measures will increase red tape and cost all of us money while doing nothing to solve the problem.

    Me - I'm off to France to buy mine.

  • Comment number 51.

    Our politicians are dull, unimaginative and obsessed with money. Why is raising taxation the only answer to everything?

    The rise in popularity of a night on the beers has proceeded in parallel with a decline in popularity of participation in sport and, I'm prepared to bet, practically ever other form of community participation. Raising tax on alcohol is unlikely to solve this problem. Nor will a tax on sofas and televisions, which forms part of the same sad story.

  • Comment number 52.

    Almost 2hrs and no moderation come on guys get your finger out

  • Comment number 53.

    Firstly, it makes sense to me that any retailer should have to charge the excise duty, otherwise they are undermining the control that is already in place. So selling alcohol at a loss should be illegal.

    Secondly, why not have a higher rate of duty for off licence sales? Logically, sales in a pub are under more control; you have to be 18 to drink there. Off-licence consumption is controlled less; when it leaves the shop it is out of control. So a higher rate for supermarkets and off-licences makes perfect sense and has the additional benefit of saving your local pub.

  • Comment number 54.

    Personally, I think alcohol should be a class A drug. But then, the treasury needs the cash.....

  • Comment number 55.

    Brilliant! I'm sure the French supermarkets will be rubbing their hands with glee.

    And I'm sure no grey market will emerge selling unregulated imported booze, just like it didn't with cigarettes - and yes, that is sarcasm.

    I mentioned this in my rejected HYS comment, so lets see if this one will pass the moderators delicate sensibilities?

    And, as an addendum, raising prices won't reduce drinking much - stopping making the taxpayers life a misery on the other hand might have a positive impact though. But then, that would involve the politicians thinking outside the box marked 'tax' wouldn't it?

  • Comment number 56.

    If the govt. does follow Donaldsons advice and put a minimum price of 50p per "unit" then all that does is restore the differential in wine cost between the UK and France that was there before sterling's colapse - so it's off to to buy my next awayday ticket!!

    Anyway, exactly what is a "unit"? Nobody else in Europe uses it, and it seems it's just another "British Standard Unit" that fits neatly alongside the "double decker bus" and the "football pitch". When I went to a "well man" clinic and truthfully told my GP how much I was drinking, and owned up to what it might be in units he just laughed, said it was nothing to worry about, and that the limits that the governent spout are abrbitary, and dreamed up with scant regard to health implications.

    I would be interesting to compare what the UK health police consider reasonable for alcohol consumption and what other european governments recommended limits are.

  • Comment number 57.

    Bring in the 50p/unit please. It will make people think about what they drink and move to quality aiding quality wine and beer producers against the mega-corporations.

    It will also drive people back to the pubs (where it is already way above 50p/unit) as it won't be cheaper to drink at home.

    Even better - use any revenues from minimum pricing (the tax take will be higher) to give pubs a tax break where the first 250 grand is untaxed - that will help the smaller pubs compete against the large ones.

  • Comment number 58.

    If the purpose of alcohol tax is to improve health rather than raise money then it should be a fixed tax per unit of alcohol not a percentage of the price of the product.

    Right now people who drink a small amount of an expensive wine or whisky pay far more than people who drink large amounts of cheap cider or beer.

    But actually alcohol taxation like every other stealth tax that labour raise is about paying for more government. Health is just the excuse and there is more money to be made from taxing based on product value.

  • Comment number 59.

    Although I agree that binge drinking is at a riddiculous high; as a 24 year old city dwelling male I fail to see how increasing drink prices will dramatically improve this cultural pheonomenon.

    Young People nowadays will try anything to break away from societies "norms", and if it will cost them £20 for a 1lt bottle of vodka instead of £15, then they are more likely to move to cheaper options. I doubt many readers of this blog are aware that 4 pills in any club outside of london will cost you £10.

    £2.50 each, thats a 2 cans of lager; a bottle of strong cider, or a bad bottle of red wine. Tell me how any of those options are worse than kids experimenting with Class A drugs?

  • Comment number 60.

    Prices increase on beer, and other such "luxuries" but my wages don't.

    So I can only assume that such items are not meant for the low paid, average joe on the street anymore.

    Personally I see no reason why I as a law abiding person on a low income should have to pay more for something which I currently enjoy responsibly, or forgo the pleasure because I simple cannot afford it anymore, just because some twits in office who earns enough that any price rises won't affect them thin that taxing the hell out of consumers is a way to stop binge drinking and other such cultures.

    Education on how to drink responsibly, and how to act responsibly in society would go a long way towards curing the issue, that I would pay more taxes for, if I could be sure that my taxes were going towards it...

  • Comment number 61.

    24, sagamix wrote:

    "I'm a free marketeer on this one - no way should the government be setting the retail price of alcohol

    I don't like the heavy tax on it either - I would abolish that altogether in favour of a rise in, say, income tax on higher earners"

    There goes another icon!

    Free marketeer!

    It isn't the price - it's the attitude that leaves so many children/young people senseless in a puddle of vomit on the streets.

    Where did that social change come from?

    There's a huge difference between going out for a drink, having too much and ending up in a sorry state - and going out with the INTENTION of getting plastered.

    In Scandinavian countries, alcohol tends to be expensive. Not sure if it's still a practice, but there used to be booze-cruises into the Baltic with minimal (sometimes free) passenger prices, as people would drink tax-free / reduced alcohol that covered costs and delivered profit...

    Sad thing is that many people (university students, graduates, white and blue collar workers and more significantly their kids...) just go out with the intention of getting legless.

    Put up tax on alcohol? So put up the price that parents will be asked to support their children getting pissed.

    Making it harder to get access to booze?

    That wasn't the Blair/Brown approach when 24 hour licencing was introduced... All that did was push back the time when police presence was required on the streets. Makes it more expensive and leaves less PCs around to deal with daily criminal activity... (I've only seen a real PC in my town, in daylight, about 3 - maybe 4 - times in 8 years. Discounting the guys who pop on their flashing lights while driving back to the station...)

    How on earth Saga thinks that raising tax rates on high earners will affect "get out of your head for fun" drinking just baffles me.

    I confess I have walked past drunken young ladies, splay legged on the pavement, without offering help. Not because I didn't worry (having daughters myself). But because there is a risk that any older bloke offering help could be treated as a lecherous old type trying to prey on the young.

    Much easier to dial 999. And hope someone turns up.

    This bunch talk about "social deprivation".

    Well, I don't have a 60 inch plasma TV. No MP3 player. No new, quality marque car. Can't afford constant take-aways. Wear the wrong shoes and other clothes. Only one parent alive. Poor pension options. Couple of outstanding debts.

    Good gracious. I'm socially deprived...

    When I have too much, it's at home. Cheaper that way.

  • Comment number 62.

    this is primarily a tax rise.

    However I have noticed that as ministers become more corrupt incompetent and libertine in their own conduct they appear to be getting ever more puritanical about everyone elses

    Has anybody else noticed this and if so why

  • Comment number 63.

    49. At 12:33pm on 16 Mar 2009, Thegrimcrim wrote:
    Apparantly i heard the government was thinking of taxing sex next.

    Mind you if i cant ply women with drinks any more thats unlikely to be a problem for me.

    cant drink
    cant smoke
    what can we do?


    Goody two, goody two, goody goody two shoes!!

  • Comment number 64.

    Chocolate tax + Booze tax = Distraction tactics. Or am I crediting someone in government with too much brain?

  • Comment number 65.

    perry @ 36

    For myself, I am strongly opposed to this minimum pricing scheme. Why do we continually use price (and tax) as a mechanism to achieve prohibition (as, for example, with tobacco)? It really isn't something that has been shown to work

    excellent! - I'm on a mission to agree with you about stuff and here's another chance ... if we don't like the affect of alcohol on society, then let's BAN IT ... it is a drug after all ... otherwise, leave it alone, please

    hey, and you're named after a tipple too, aren't you? ... albeit one with a rather MEDIEVAL ring to it

  • Comment number 66.

    11.35 fingertapper. On the button.
    When people went to pubs at the weekends all ages were socialised into the community.
    I wanted to be accepted as a worker and a grown up, getting drunk was not a plan.
    Now the pubs are closed, mostly empty, or sterile units where conversation is drowned out by loud music or screaming children. Smokers are staying home with a drink and friends where they can be comfortable.
    The young gather in crowds and drink/take drugs on the street.
    We are unsocialable because there is nowhere left to be social.
    What sort of Government forces this on people, a dictatorship, no less.
    Put the prices up, fine, tax, bully, do the same thing again and again, people tend to change when forced, not always in a good way.
    I read the price of illegal drugs are the lowest they have been for years, I can only shake my head and wonder at the stupid people that do not think out the consequences of their actions.

  • Comment number 67.

    It is easy to buy cigarettes for less than £3 which are smuggled. The criminals do not ask for I.D. when they sell them nor will they when it becomes very profitable to sell imported or counterfeit booze.

    The posters who agree with additional regulation are delusional if they think it will help the battle against binge drinking. It is more state interference and another example of nanny knows best. zaNU Labour have bean meddling in our private lives too much already and they should be told that in plain terms.

  • Comment number 68.

    The chances of the cost of drinking being increased is unlikely in the extreme, at least prior to an election. Brown and Darling are fully aware how many of their core voters are part of the non work booze culture in this country, and they certainly don't want to upset these important members of the population . Anything that has a detrimental effect on benefits, cheap booze or ability to dodge work will be a non starter. As for those who do earn a living but spend the fruits of their Labours on booze, then they will continue ,through taxation to fund the people who don't work. You can't win.

  • Comment number 69.

    fairly @ 61

    I confess I have walked past drunken young ladies, splay legged on the pavement, without offering help

    just so long as you didn't offer anything else !

  • Comment number 70.


    Riiiiiight....... so my higher rate taxes should subsidise you getting mullered.....

    You're a student arent you???

  • Comment number 71.

    6. At 10:18am on 16 Mar 2009, the-real-truth wrote:
    #People drink to forget the mess that this government have wrought on us.

    #People drink to forget the stress that this government dump on them.

    #People drink to forget the oppression that this government impose on them.

    #Brown has the solution in his hands -- if only he was man enough to do the decent thing and call a general election.

    No my friend that would be the indecent thing to do.

    So you think that all these kids drinking themselves into a stupor are because they dont like Gordon Brown, God you guys will clutch at any straw.
    Most of these kids who are binge drinking haven't got a clue who is in office and they almost certainly don't know Brown or Cameron.

  • Comment number 72.

    All that will happen if the Government increase the price of alcohol is that people will buy it on the Continent, or brew their own.

    And all that will happen if they increase the drinking age is that under-age drinking will increase.

    There are already laws on the statute books that could adequately be used to deal with problem drinkers, if only the police would actually enforce them.

    Interesting thought: Have the Lords the power to say, when a Bill is passed to them after its third reading, "There is already a law that would cover this" and reject it?

  • Comment number 73.

    When are these idiots going to get it into their collective heads that binge drinking has nothing to do with price and everything to do with the culture. I walked perfectly safely through central Budapest in the early hours of this morning - something I could not have done in the small town in the New Forest where I lived before - notwithstanding that booze is relatively cheap here.

    Get real - if you want to use alcohol as an easy means of generating revenue, be honest and say so. If you are serious about tackling the binge drinking culture, look at the underlying causes. But stop confusing the two. They are not related.

  • Comment number 74.

    Personally.... I blame the parents. :-)

    Seriously? Its a cultural thing. How come most other European countries have access to the demon drink just as much as we do, yet do not have the binge problem that we have?

    It does seem a bit dumb to change the licensing laws to promote a more european street cafe society when given the meat-headed p*ss artists we have over here, it was never going to happen.

    I'd personally bar anyone under the influence from A&E departments. Get security to throw em out. Doesnt matter what the injury is, I dont care if they're about to shuffle off the mortal coil; leave 'em where they fall. They'll soon decide that getting completely minced isnt a good idea when they wake up inverted in a bush minus shoes & wallet, or worse.

    Actions and consequences.

    Same goes for the junkies.

    Charge the pubs and clubs for the increased level of policing outside their premises. Any scrapping or the such like directly outside a licenced premises? Bill the landlord or the club owner.
    They'll soon sort their act out. If they dont, dont renew their licenses.

    Actions and consequences.

    Rescind the licensing hours back to what they were and force the supermarkets to comply with it as well, home deliveries included.

  • Comment number 75.

    If the idea is wholly on health grounds then Donaldson is heading in the right direction, but where things are radically different 30 or 40 years ago is the alcoholic strength of certain drinks and the production process.

    Beers in the early 1980s were usually at between 2 and 3 pct proof, now 5 pct to 6 pct proof are readily available along with continental imports that are even stronger. If the volume consumed now as it was in the 1980s then alcohol consumed is up. Wines are also stronger especially from the new world, to the extent that some reds are at 16 pct proof only 2 pct short of the strength of sherry or Vermouth. Spirits are the same for the mainstream market between 37.5 pct and 40 pct, but some imported Vodka and rum are near or over 100 pct.

    Production processes in the alcohol industry are run 24/7, but the chemists and quality control personnel only work 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. Effectively they are only present for 25 pct of the weeks production. The fermentation process requires an addition of sugar, but the raw material hops or grain etc will naturally have varying yields of starch which also contains sugar. This means that the unregulated and unsupervised production batches may actually be a lot stronger than what it says on the tin.

    Back to the original idea, alcohol will be drunk whatever initiative is implemented. Rather than have an arithmetic rate per alcohol unit, a stronger message could be sent out by making the rate exponential. So a beer at 2 pct would be a dramatically lower price than one at 6 pct proof.

    If only very strong alcoholic drinks are available two or three pints after work rapidly becomes a heavy night out. Could it be from a socializing point of view that people do want to relax in the evening for an hour or so, consume two or three pints but not want to get hammered? Drinking that volume with high strength beer on a regular basis is a recipe towards addiction.

    In Canada for example strong alcohol can only be purchased in state liquor stores. Not all supermarkets are licensed. The other problem with enforcing the pricing in the UK retail sector is the proximity of the Calais hyper-stores. It is also more than ironic that Brown and Mandelson are exhorting anti protectionism and free trade respectively, whilst price intervention and indeed applying excise duty are a complete contradiction!

  • Comment number 76.

    54. , HeatherTN Personally, I think alcohol should be a class A drug. But then, the treasury needs the cash.....


    Heather, I really do agree with you, but for one thing. We might find that we become even more of a haven for Fundamentalist nutters!

  • Comment number 77.

    People who abuse alcohol won't be deterred by a price hike.

    People who abuse it and deprive their families in doing so, will pay the extra and thereby further deprive their families.

    The people most likely to reduce their intake would be modest drinkers on modest incomes.

  • Comment number 78.

    fom @ 61

    How on earth Saga thinks that raising tax rates on high earners will affect "get out of your head for fun" drinking just baffles me

    it baffles me too, Open, because I didn't say that, did I?

    my point (and as usual, it's a perfectly valid one) is that the duty on BOOZE is a very regressive tax (it hits the poor disproportionately hard) and therefore I would like to see it ABOLISHED

    but that would leave a hole in the public finances and, being as I'm not an irresponsible tax and spend type, I feel I need to offer a way of waking up for the revenue lost ... and my suggestion is higher direct income tax on higher earners ... a progressive form of taxation

    talking to you is sometimes (although not always) like hanging out with a favourite uncle who just will NOT wear his hearing aid

  • Comment number 79.

    fubar @ 70

    so my higher rate taxes should subsidise you getting mullered ...

    relax fubar ... the increased tax is only on higher earners ... so you're safe

  • Comment number 80.


    Nice one. :-))

    Good to see you've got your limits as well!!

  • Comment number 81.

    #74 - Fubar_Saunders

    On the contrary, stop treating it as an issue, get rid of licensing altogether and perhaps people will stop thinking of it as something special and start thinking of it as just another part of life's rich tapestry. Being draconian and punitive is not the answer.

    What you are aiming for is a society in which people who go drinking see it as an exercise in how long they can stay sober, not how quickly they can get legless.

    By the way, we have drunken mobs over here. Strange how they suddenly acquire fluent English when everything kicks off though.

  • Comment number 82.

    It's the thought of the Tories getting in that makes me want to binge drink.

  • Comment number 83.

    Putting the price of drink up is futile. If people (and children) want to drink they will get hold of it no matter what.

    Why don't the government start charging drunks for being treated at A&E? A couple of large payments might make them think twice before doing it again - if they can afford it!

    We have to pay for our dental treatment now, so I can't see what the problem is.

  • Comment number 84.

    69 , sagamix wrote:

    "fairly @ 61

    I confess I have walked past drunken young ladies, splay legged on the pavement, without offering help

    just so long as you didn't offer anything else !"

    Yes, Saga. I offered a little of bit of hope that someone from "public services" would provide a fairly rapid response.

    If it had been my daughter, I'd have picked her up and carried her to safety.

    Your comment was, quite frankly, despicable.

  • Comment number 85.

    "This, the chancellor said, was to offset the cut in VAT from 17.5% to 15%. However, when VAT goes back up at the end of this year there is no plan to cut alcohol duty again."

    More proof of Labour lies

  • Comment number 86.

    I doubt raising the price of alcohol deters anyone, however I'd rather it was in tax

    why? - because despite cries of 'stealth tax' a minimum price would be more likely to support the alcohol industry, whereas a tax hike would at least go to the government to pay of the debts

    obviously this is why the current gov support that, not to mention setting a flat rate on alcohol wouldn't be popular - but labour rarely consider that issue

    I'd rather they tax luxury things like alcohol and cigs before going for income and council tax

  • Comment number 87.

    There is a massive flaw in the logic which nobody has addressed, perhaps because it is easier to recycle a politician's press release than it is to do some work.

    Alcohol consumption in Britain has not changed much since the 70s according to WHO figures

    It rose a little in the late seventies and has been pretty stable ever since. So if this is such an epidemic then it's been an epidemic since about 1980 then. We have a very slightly higher than average consumption.

  • Comment number 88.


    Your comment was, quite frankly, despicable

    I'm very sorry - I misjudged the mood of our banter - forgive me

  • Comment number 89.


    Pardon my interjection, but.... If she'd been your daughter, wouldnt you have been asking yourself questions about how such a situation came to pass??


    Over here? Out of interest, wheres here?

  • Comment number 90.

    The PM claims that he does not want to penalise ordinary people - yet we are paying for the increased hospital admissions/ the policing of rowdy city centres. A small increase in alcohol prices might save significantly more on the wider social cost of low price alcohol.

  • Comment number 91.

    #89 - Fubar_Saunders

    Budapest. It seems to be taking over from Prague as stag party destination of choice - more's the pity. I hear Krakow is having the same problem.

  • Comment number 92.

    80 Fubar
    Yes - I find there are very few things that can't be settled over a pint.

    Despite our differences, I suspect we would solve most of the world's problems after a few pints of Old Hooky

    PS You are currently my blogger of the year.

  • Comment number 93.

    "More proof of Labour lies"

    Aren't Labours policies all stolen, er I mean borrowed, from the Tories...

    I'm with the person(s) here who are calling for higher taxation on the more wealthy in society, it is a must. Taxation is grossly unbalanced in this country, those who cannot really afford to pay a lot of tax because they are on low wages get screwed for every penny they have while the people who can afford it pay relatively little, or none as is the case for many wealthier people in the UK because they use every trick in the book they can to avoid paying tax, like using off-shore money pots (or foreign wives, Bernard Ecclestone would know about that trick)!

    Be it alcohol, chocolate or any other food/drink taxation on it needs to stop, otherwise we'll end up with 2 sections of society, those who can afford to eat and the peasants.

    Dear god that sounds almost mediaeval...

  • Comment number 94.

    93 raven

    I can agree in principle -

    however 1) where do you draw the line(s)? increments of 10,000/20,000? - what I seem to find with every bit of means weighted tax the people at the bottom/middle end get severely screwed - the people at the bottom end up paying the same percentage as those on however much more, then you get to the point that life is always unfair - someone always earns more and does better, probably for less work, then you start down the unfeasible road of everyone should get the same

    2) the fiddles - the wealthier you are, the more options open to you - hire an accountant, get offshore bank accounts, get paid in capital or shares etc - even with the current crackdowns on tax havens it seems unlikely we'll be able to regulate the whole world to one system any time soon

    3) the extreme measure - emigration (or brain drain) - start overly penalising people for earning more then they will take their skills elsewhere, which is why we ended up with the two tier system we have now

    Believe me, I'm really asking - if someone could find a fair way of taxing the people I'd love to hear it

    the 10p tax rate was a good start...

  • Comment number 95.

    After Sir Liam Donaldson has dealt with the drugs of booze and fags, I do hope he doesn't turn his attention to sex and rock n roll.

  • Comment number 96.

    I have worried about and studied this epidemic for a number of years now.

    I am convinced, to put it simply, that the reasons are:

    1. An EXCESS of disposable income - how else could they drink so much.

    2. Low self esteem and sense of a purpose in life.

    3. Encouragement to buy low cost drink to get drunk, e.g. "Happy Hour" in pubs and clubs and, and this is VERY relevant:
    Universities knocking out dirt cheap booze in their student union bars and dances etc.

    Why oh why has nobody picked up on the uni. point abo ve?

  • Comment number 97.

    89, Fubar_Saunders wrote:


    Pardon my interjection, but.... If she'd been your daughter, wouldnt you have been asking yourself questions about how such a situation came to pass??"

    Fubar, I certainly would.

    But first of all, I would make sure she was safe!

  • Comment number 98.

    Hi Nick

    Is it not classic New Labour to have annuncements everywhere to catch headlines but to end up taxing more?!

    Also the parties that are in favour of raising the price of alcohol are presumeably following the model of how we treat illegal drugs i.e raising the price. As that has been a failure and leads to a lot of crime from addicts has any of them explained how it will work differently for alcohol?

  • Comment number 99.

    Afternoon all,

    It's not the price - it's the culture. Look at any mainland European country and you will find most of them have cheaper alcohol than we do (most have younger drinking ages too) but they don't have the same binge related problems as we do

    The difference is twofold: Culture and availability of strong alcohol. France and Holland both allow drinking legally from 16 - the difference is that you can only buy and consume beer or wine. Strong alcohol is limited to 21 and above

    The type of drink available is vastly different in Europe. In most bars there are mainly beers and wines available - top shelf is there but it is expensive and not part of the drinking culture. You cannot find an alcopop for love nor money

    In the UK you can go to any bar and get a triple vodka with mixer for about 2 pounds fifty (give or take) and there are countless offers for 2 for 1 doubles and alcopops

    The rest of Europe consumes mainly beers and wines. We need to remove alcopops and doubles promotions, this is one of the main reasons people get so hammered

    It won't change quickly though - the culture must change first, and that is the hard bit! Parents need to do much more to encourage sensible drinking. Pubs need to stop shovelling as much strong liquor down peoples throats as they can; and encourage a more social atmosphere

    Pubs used to be somewhere you went to meet people and have the craic - now they exist as alcohol delivery systems, solely for the purpose of getting wasted

  • Comment number 100.

    If publicans and brewers are concerned about the cheap price of booze why do they charge so much for soft drinks in a pub? Last month I was charged £3.20 for a pint of Orange and Tonic water,a pint of real ale was £2.80.

    It seems to me they are just trying to force prices up by attacking supermarkets ,when they have no moral high ground what so ever.


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