Simon Carr: A price rise isn't going to stop teenagers binge-drinking

Alcohol abuse is one of our most enduring national characteristics

Related Topics

A minimum price for alcohol? The Chief Medical Officer is saying that a floor price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol should be imposed in order to make bingeing less attractive to young drinkers. The higher price will suppress demand, theory tells him. The Department of Health has evaluated the pricing structure and has issued the (surely bogus) figure that a minimum price of 50p a unit will suppress alcohol consumption by 7 per cent.

It's not entirely clear at the time of writing who gets the money, incidentally. It's assumed to be a tax. The fact that the money will be earmarked to help pay for the social costs of alcohol is helping to sell the idea. But of course, if the money goes into the Treasury it will go out again to the banks. No one's going to like that.

Maybe the money will simply go back into the industry? There would be some fairness in that: The pub chain Wetherspoon released figures last week showing how their 700 pubs made average profits of £50,000 and paid average taxes of £530,000. The Government looks at the industry and says, "One for you ... and 10 for me". I wouldn't want to be the minister who says, "one for you and 12 or 13 or 14 for me". That's a tax policy that will call a future generation to the barricades.

Excessive drinking isn't one of those things that can be easily dialled down. One of our most enduring national characteristics is alcohol abuse. It wasn't just the medieval wool booms that gave our small farmers time and money to sit around getting sloshed. We have been famous intoxicants from our earliest days.

In Wihtred's Code published in 695AD, his 6th Law specified a penalty for a priest too drunk to baptise a dying man. There were very few laws in those days, so it obviously happened often enough to warrant a specific mention.

Having said that, a Gin Lane mentality has been developing over recent years. In the days of my dear old dad, people drank quite differently, perhaps because they didn't have much money. A single measure of spirits and those mean little wine glasses – they were what we were used to. The British sitting room drinks cabinet had a half bottle of spirits in the back somewhere. It was hardly drinking at all.

And it must be said, the way my father administered wine through lunch was a masterclass. You always felt slightly under-supplied until about two thirds of the way through the meal when a switch was thrown in your head and a great contentment descended on you. What a role model he was.

But then it shows that role models don't always work because I turned into a guzzler. And God knows what example I've given my children. I only hope they haven't been keeping a publishable diary.

One of them left a family-sized, two-litre bottle of white cider by my computer one night and that seemed to me to be entirely new. For a couple of quid you get nearly four pints of 7 per cent alcohol. I drink too much myself to work out how many units that represents. But it really is dead drunk for a fiver, isn't it?

And is that going to be turned around by increasing the price of a beer four-pack from £2.99 to £3.40? Is that going to decrease alcohol consumption or raise the level of pocket-money? Is 50p here and there going to disperse the street corner groups of swearing 12-year-olds? Without of course wanting to stigmatise the little darlings, some of them really deserve to be thrown into the canal.

Things have changed a lot in the last generation, but one thing certainly hasn't. The eternal cry of teenagers is still: "There's nothing to do!" That is the really intractable problem: getting drunk may be many things, but it isn't boring for the drinker. And when temptation is matched by the opportunities afforded by street corners, co-operative retailers, youth-friendly dance clubs and 24-hour licensing, then they really are being drafted through a very specific set of gates.

The challenge of keeping teenagers busy doesn't get any easier, and raising the price of alcohol isn't going to do it. Let's be optimistic. It's possible that more attentive police may not just add to the problem. We have the laws – they should be enforced.

But this age group really need to be taken in hand – by their teachers, club leaders, drama directors, sports coaches, apprentice supervisors, weapons trainers ...

The drinkers will still drink but at least it won't be all they do.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas