A minimum price for booze? That's just middle class puritanism

Statistics show it's the middle classes binging most: but will this move protect them?

Share

David Cameron has labelled the British culture of drunkenness a “scandal”, and the Daily Mail has described binge drinking as “creating a generation of aggressive and out-of-control women”.

If the scaremongers are to be believed, Britain is sinking into a bog of alcoholism of the sort depicted by William Hogarth in the 18th century.

Not only is it apparently unsafe to walk the streets on a Saturday night without being accosted by the human debris of our binge-drinking culture, but the medical treatment of those facing the long-term consequences of hitting the sauce is said to be slowly bankrupting the NHS.

The latest plan, perhaps inspired by the approach taken to illegal drugs over the past 40 years, is to “get tough” and “crackdown” on so-called problem boozers. With this in mind, the government is considering hitting drinkers in the wallet with a minimum price for a unit of alcohol.

The idea behind the minimum price is to dissuade the public from loading up on drink before hitting the town and getting even more legless. The proposal is backed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the Alcohol Health Alliance UK and the British Medical Association.

Scotland has already introduced a 50p minimum price and, this week, the Coalition will announce options for minimum alcohol pricing, with a report due on Wednesday expected to recommend three possible prices for a unit – 40p, 45p or 50p.

Will it work?

Hyperbole aside, however, minimum pricing may not be the magic pill it’s cracked up to be. The evidence to suggest that the solution to Britain's apparent drink problem is to price people off alcohol is flimsy at best.

While  no doubt appealing to those who write the familiar headlines depicting an out-of-control horde of drinkers laying waste to British high streets every Saturday night, the statistics appear to show that the country’s drink problem (if it exists at all) lies beyond the reach of mere price controls.

According to the Office for National Statistics, average weekly consumption of alcohol in 2010 was highest among those who worked in middle class professions and lowest among those in routine and manual occupations. Despite the lurid tabloid depictions of the dreaded “out of control” women, the statistics also showed that professional women drank on average 9.2 units of alcohol a week compared with those in manual occupations who drank 6.2 units a week.

When it comes to age, adults aged over 45 were three times more likely to drink alcohol every day than younger people.

You may want to go back and read the last two paragraphs again. The people that are supposed to be getting loaded on cheap Alcopops every weekend; those the tabloids and the Government want to price off the booze – you know, the working classes – aren’t, as it happens, drinking anywhere near as much as their middle class counterparts.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that, in the years to come, it may be working class folk who are footing the drink-induced health bills of, not the Vicky Pollards of this world, but those with a class background that’s closer to that of her creators – the middle classes.

Spewing statistics

In actual fact, not only are media portrayals of a descent into nationwide alcoholism an excuse to sneer at pictures of half cut women and the lower orders who apparently no longer know their place, but they’re also grossly misleading, for alcohol consumption among Britons has been decreasing – and decreasing quite significantly – for a number of years.

Between 2005 and 2010, the average weekly alcohol consumption per adult decreased by almost a third, from 14.3 units to 11.5 units. Among men, average alcohol consumption decreased from 19.9 units to 15.9 units a week and for women the figure reduced from 9.4 units to 7.6 units.

The data was released earlier this year and to the credit of certain sections of the press the socio-economic differentials were picked up on. However, the data that showed a widespread decrease in alcohol consumption, if not exactly hushed up, didn't attract anywhere near the number of headlines the lurid descriptions of binge drinkers tend to. And there were certainly no accompanying photos of a country shunning the bottle and soberly going about its business.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Britain does have a drink problem. The next step is to identify those most in need of help in controlling their alcohol intake. As the statistics show, these tend to be middle-aged people from the middle classes – hardly the people who are going to be discouraged by a few extra pounds on a bottle of wine.

Am I the only one who suspects, however, that minimum pricing is not primarily about health, but rather about “cracking down” on that which Middle England is forever fretting about cracking down on: the working classes having too much of a good time?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory