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Tax breaks and weaker drinks will curb binge culture

Terry smiling headWell, would you believe it, there is a call from an organisation representing local councils for weaker drinks and tax breaks to help tackle the binge culture.

Crikey, I have been pushing this argument for years, particularly in response to the Scottish government’s flawed proposals.

While Holyrood is demanding a tax rise to tackle excessive drinking the Local Government Association (LGA) is now calling for tax breaks on lower-strength beers to include ciders and wines. The call has been welcomed by industry bodies.

It also echoes my own sentiments, most recently set out in February, when I argued that there are two solutions to tackling binge drinking:

First: encourage more people to drink in the pub, which is a controlled environment serving legal measures. This would reduce the numbers drinking to excess at home, and also save thousands of pubs threatened with closure;

Second, encourage, or force, pubs and brewers to sell more alcohol-free or lower-strength drinks. Too many do not stock alcohol-free varieties and this has to change.

The LGA is promoting more or less the same case. It represents 370 councils in England and Wales with responsibility for public health, but the principle is the same for the rest of the UK.

Tony Page, the licensing spokesman for the LGA, said that increasing the availability of zero alcohol and weaker strength drinks will help people live healthier lives” by helping to control drinking levels and tackle the harm caused by excessive drinking”.

He noted that a new generation of non-drinkers is on the rise, with a growing demand for greater choice in alcohol-free and weaker drinks.  ‘Dry bars’ are opening up across the country.

The LGA, backing up my campaign, says widening the availability of low-strength and alcohol-free drinks would “revitalise pubs, which are closing at a rate of nearly 30 a week, and re-establish them as vibrant centres of communities”.

There is also a growing number of non-drinkers, with one in five adults (21%) saying they do not drink alcohol at all – up from 19% in 2005.

Tax breaks for beer have helped fuel a rise in demand in low-strength products. This should be encouraged and brewers need to take note.

Frankly, raising tax on products that are “bad for us” is a cynical ploy by governments which lack imagination or the will to tackle the problems at source.

Imposing tax  is more likely to boost the government’s bank balance rather than curb consumer behaviour. Same with the sugar tax.  Funny how governments impose taxes supposedly to stop us doing things then immediately tell us what they expect to do with the extra revenue that the tax will raise (because consumers will continue to consume the product). In the case of sugar, the Chancellor said he anticipated an extra £500 million. So much for tackling obesity.

Tobacco sales only began to fall once the government realised that taxing smokers was no match for images of blackened, tar-filled lungs backed up by statistics for early deaths. Rather than price them out of their habit, it was necessary to scare smokers into giving up cigarettes.

Minimum unit pricing on alcohol is flawed for the same reason.

Anyone buying a round is not going to tell one of the gang that they ain’t getting a drink because the government has just added a few pence to the price.

Those who meet at a friend’s house and get tanked up on bottles of vodka and gin before they go out, aren’t worrying about the level of tax they are paying, and it is wrong to then blame the pubs when these same people are found prostrate in the streets.



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