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Politics no image

Published on December 14th, 2012 | by Louisa Tratalos
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566"] © James Williams/flickr/ Wine Glass[/caption]   February 6th next year will conclude Britain’s 10 week alcohol strategy consultation. This is, according to the Home Secretary Teresa May, one of a “whole series of measures” to battle binge drinking. Here in Britain, alcohol serves as the most common form of socialising and the culture which surrounds it is engraved in our past. The consequences of social drinking are often disconnected from the activity with ease and laziness, however, Britain’s alcohol statistics reflect the widespread suffering and high-paid costs of guzzling down our malted barley and fermented potatoes. So how will this new ban on cheap drinks affect our nation’s health and which members of our society will this legislation affect? The proposal for a minimum price to be enforced upon alcohol per unit is, primarily aimed at the small but disruptive strand of society whose drinking habits have consequences ranging from violent behaviour to hospital treatments – affecting not only themselves and their immediate family but also society as a whole. The Scottish government also identifies the urgency in bringing change to their nation’s drinking habits and the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed in June, introducing a minimum price on alcohol of a marginally higher, 50p per unit. Based upon the projections, in Britain it will be illegal to sell a bottle of vodka (37.5%/70Cl) at less than £11.48 – something which supermarkets and stores all over the country are currently guilty of. Lidl sells their house brand at the cheap price of £7.89; Aldi at £8.29 and Marks and Spencers sells theirs for £9.49. With deals on alcohol such as ‘two-for-one’ or ‘buy one get one half price’ also being placed under review, the legislation may begin to ask people to question how much they are spending on drink. Poppy Robertson for the Guardian claims that ‘Many young people say they like happy hour promotions and the easy availability of alcohol’. Some teenagers revealed in an interview that if there wasn’t a happy hour at the pub then they would replace their drinking spot with Wetherspoons or a trip to Tesco. If there is such a stark contrast in prices between pubs and clubs with those at corner shops or cheap bars then undoubtedly it seems sensible to drink from the latter. When such a range of alcohol prices are available to consumers then the attitude becomes ‘drink as much for as cheap as you can’. Perhaps the price rises will put people off this large consumption of alcohol often in a very short time period and instead persuade them to head out – pacing themselves through the higher priced alcoholic beverages. The activity of pre-loading – stocking up on drink before heading out - is something the strategy aims to tackle and therefore this, in my opinion, is rather realistic. But are these activities the common pastime of our nation’s majority? Is this not just the binge drinking patterns of students and some young professionals? What about another fragment of society – those poorer but responsible drinkers whose weekly shopping allowance may be badly affected by these changes? What about the people who sit in cheap bars and drink cheap alcohol and who are dependent on it? Are places like Wetherspoons, which sell extortionately cheap alcoholic drinks, facilitating alcoholism and promoting irresponsible drinking or are they simply improving the conditions under which people can drink by providing them with a sociable environment? Are they housing drinkers which would be drinking anyway? If retail prices are to be raised for those who cannot afford the more expensive brands of alcohol now, are livers going to be saved or pockets emptied? Integral to predicting the success or alternative failure of such a scheme one must consider whether or not this really will influence people’s spending patterns. With prices on alcohol remaining almost completely unchanged in pubs and clubs, those who drink socially and involve themselves in the British drinking culture will not notice the effects of the proposed legislation. Neither will those who drink a reasonably priced bottle of Sainsbury’s house Rioja which sits just above the projected price for such a drink at £4.22 or a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whisky which is left unaffected by the minimum price of £12.60. Steep increases on the market are likely to affect those who already struggle with the current prices. Yet at the higher end of supermarket prices, alcohol would not be affected on products such as Echo Falls Merlot and Johnnie Walker Red Label. Are the products which will be hit by the increase only consumed by a very small fragment of our society comprised of alcohol abusers and binge-drinkers or will it affect a great mass of a responsibly-drinking British public? Why is there such a dense body of drinkers in British society and are there deeper underlying problems which naive alcohol price increases cannot begin to tackle? In his book ‘CHAVS’ Owen Jones paints a daunting illustration of the demonization of the working classes – outlining an undercurrent of frustration at the inequality which our society carries. Perhaps raising the price of alcohol to target violent and abusive behaviour is a move which barely scratches the surface of the unfathomable problem of a nation full of dissatisfaction. Perhaps Jones is correct in claiming “the politics of the soggy centre have demonstrably failed to meet the needs and aspirations of working class people” and that “a new class politics has to attack the root causes” (Owen Jones: ‘CHAVS: The Demonization of the Working Class’; Verso, London, New York, 2011).

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Alcohol strategy consultation: Will it save our livers or wipe out our already emptying pockets?

© James Williams/flickr/ Wine Glass

 

February 6th next year will conclude Britain’s 10 week alcohol strategy consultation. This is, according to the Home Secretary Teresa May, one of a “whole series of measures” to battle binge drinking. Here in Britain, alcohol serves as the most common form of socialising and the culture which surrounds it is engraved in our past. The consequences of social drinking are often disconnected from the activity with ease and laziness, however, Britain’s alcohol statistics reflect the widespread suffering and high-paid costs of guzzling down our malted barley and fermented potatoes. So how will this new ban on cheap drinks affect our nation’s health and which members of our society will this legislation affect?

The proposal for a minimum price to be enforced upon alcohol per unit is, primarily aimed at the small but disruptive strand of society whose drinking habits have consequences ranging from violent behaviour to hospital treatments – affecting not only themselves and their immediate family but also society as a whole. The Scottish government also identifies the urgency in bringing change to their nation’s drinking habits and the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed in June, introducing a minimum price on alcohol of a marginally higher, 50p per unit.

Based upon the projections, in Britain it will be illegal to sell a bottle of vodka (37.5%/70Cl) at less than £11.48 – something which supermarkets and stores all over the country are currently guilty of. Lidl sells their house brand at the cheap price of £7.89; Aldi at £8.29 and Marks and Spencers sells theirs for £9.49. With deals on alcohol such as ‘two-for-one’ or ‘buy one get one half price’ also being placed under review, the legislation may begin to ask people to question how much they are spending on drink. Poppy Robertson for the Guardian claims that ‘Many young people say they like happy hour promotions and the easy availability of alcohol’. Some teenagers revealed in an interview that if there wasn’t a happy hour at the pub then they would replace their drinking spot with Wetherspoons or a trip to Tesco. If there is such a stark contrast in prices between pubs and clubs with those at corner shops or cheap bars then undoubtedly it seems sensible to drink from the latter. When such a range of alcohol prices are available to consumers then the attitude becomes ‘drink as much for as cheap as you can’. Perhaps the price rises will put people off this large consumption of alcohol often in a very short time period and instead persuade them to head out – pacing themselves through the higher priced alcoholic beverages. The activity of pre-loading – stocking up on drink before heading out – is something the strategy aims to tackle and therefore this, in my opinion, is rather realistic.

But are these activities the common pastime of our nation’s majority? Is this not just the binge drinking patterns of students and some young professionals? What about another fragment of society – those poorer but responsible drinkers whose weekly shopping allowance may be badly affected by these changes?

What about the people who sit in cheap bars and drink cheap alcohol and who are dependent on it? Are places like Wetherspoons, which sell extortionately cheap alcoholic drinks, facilitating alcoholism and promoting irresponsible drinking or are they simply improving the conditions under which people can drink by providing them with a sociable environment? Are they housing drinkers which would be drinking anyway? If retail prices are to be raised for those who cannot afford the more expensive brands of alcohol now, are livers going to be saved or pockets emptied?

Integral to predicting the success or alternative failure of such a scheme one must consider whether or not this really will influence people’s spending patterns. With prices on alcohol remaining almost completely unchanged in pubs and clubs, those who drink socially and involve themselves in the British drinking culture will not notice the effects of the proposed legislation. Neither will those who drink a reasonably priced bottle of Sainsbury’s house Rioja which sits just above the projected price for such a drink at £4.22 or a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whisky which is left unaffected by the minimum price of £12.60.

Steep increases on the market are likely to affect those who already struggle with the current prices. Yet at the higher end of supermarket prices, alcohol would not be affected on products such as Echo Falls Merlot and Johnnie Walker Red Label. Are the products which will be hit by the increase only consumed by a very small fragment of our society comprised of alcohol abusers and binge-drinkers or will it affect a great mass of a responsibly-drinking British public? Why is there such a dense body of drinkers in British society and are there deeper underlying problems which naive alcohol price increases cannot begin to tackle? In his book ‘CHAVS’ Owen Jones paints a daunting illustration of the demonization of the working classes – outlining an undercurrent of frustration at the inequality which our society carries. Perhaps raising the price of alcohol to target violent and abusive behaviour is a move which barely scratches the surface of the unfathomable problem of a nation full of dissatisfaction. Perhaps Jones is correct in claiming “the politics of the soggy centre have demonstrably failed to meet the needs and aspirations of working class people” and that “a new class politics has to attack the root causes” (Owen Jones: ‘CHAVS: The Demonization of the Working Class’; Verso, London, New York, 2011).

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About the Author

Louisa Tratalos

Louisa Tratalos graduated in Visual Culture from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her interests lie in human rights and environmental issues, with a specific current focus on the Syrian conflict. She appreciates the importance of online digital content especially as a political tool for young people. She aims to follow a career in documentary film-making and the production of videos which can serve as campaign vehicles.



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