Minimum Unit Pricing is one of the current big SNP policies. In fact, it’s the only policy that’s really being pushed just now apart from the Referendum Bill (due out on the 31st) and the creation of a new Forth Bridge, Scotland’s only foreseeable mega-project.
I still find myself very unconvinced by the policy however. I’m continually faced with good evidence on both sides of the debate, so this post is pretty much an effort to help me come down on one side or the other.
Let’s start with an example:
Of a Friday night, I can often be found in a friend’s flat. The plan normally involves splitting a crate of whatever Tesco has going cheap, watching TV and arguing about politics. Generally, the beverage of choice is Mr Tennent’s Finest Lager, which goes for £10 for 18 cans or 24 cans depending on the offer that’s on during that period. We usually get through 6 or 7 cans each (on top of a few drinks in the pub beforehand). I am happy to admit that this is not particularly healthy behaviour and probably had a negative effect on my short-term memory, weight, liver health and so on.
A standard size can of beer in Europe contains 500ml and Tennents is 4% alcohol by volume. That equates to roughly 2.3 units of alcohol per can. That’s a total of 41.4 units in an 18 can crate or 55.9 units for a 24 can crate.
Half an 18 can crate represents nearly a the whole of a man’s recommend maximum weekly alcohol intake (which is 21 units)
That’s pretty good value for money.
Price-wise, it works out at 24 pence per unit for 18 cans or 18 pence per unit for 24 cans.
Now, there are two prices being floated for minimum unit pricing: the SNP’s proposal of 40 pence per unit and an expert panel’s recommendation of 60 pence per unit. How much would the crate of 24 cans cost under these price points?
24 cans = 55.9 units x £0.40 = £22.36
24 cans = 55.9 units x £0.60 = £33.54
I have to be honest and say I’ll definitely be drinking less at either of those price points. While I’m scraping my way though a Masters degree, I certainly can’t afford to drink more then a few cans at that kind of price.
On the other hand, we might just try splitting something better instead: Tesco normally does a few good malts for £20. These include Laphroaig, Glenlivet and Jura.
According to various websites, a 700ml bottle of 40% spirits contains 34.5 units of alcohol. Bottle-size and ABV vary from whisky to whisky, but I’m happy to accept this as an average.
34.5 units x £0.40 = £13.80
34.5 units x £0.60 = £20.70
So, at the 40 pence price limit, a bottle of good whisky can actually be sold for much cheaper then it goes for now. The 60 pence price point also seems much more reasonable here, especially because I generally pay at least that for a bottle of whisky.
A more useful comparison is the price of a bottle of cheap vodka or whisky. Famous Grouse, Bells and Smirnoff can all be found for sale for around about £10 for 700ml. The 40 pence price point barely changes these, while the 60 pence price bracket changes it a lot. Given that the aim of this legislation is to prevent alcohol abuse and a £3 price rise seems a bit low to have a real effect, I wonder if the Government might aim a bit higher?
Overall, these sums reinforce the claim that this is targeted at those from a poor social background, young drinkers (who are more prone to binge drinking I believe) and those who take advantage of rock bottom prices. If you are prepared to pay £20 for a bottle of whisky or up-market beer, then you probably won’t notice anything (unless the booze companies force up these prices to avoid price association with ‘low end’ brands).
I am becoming more convinced that this will have a positive effect, and probably that desired by the Government, which is to reduce the number of alcohol related crimes, illnesses and deaths.
On the other hand, there are a lot of factors that I haven’t explored. These include the pricing effects on Alcopops, Fortified Wine, White Lightning ‘Cider’, alcohol sold in bars and the effects on the Pub trade in general.
I am much more convinced in favour of Minimum Unit Pricing then I was when I started writing this. However, the SNP proposed minimum of 40 pence per unit seems too low. If they want to see Scotland have the same results as the Scandinavian countries, then I would follow the expert recommended 60 pence per unit limit.