I have a confession to make. On Saturday night, I went into a pub and bought some cheap booze.
Given all the fuss there's been on the subject, including today's report from a House of Commons committee recommending an end to discount retailing of alcohol, you might imagine that I then went out and beat up a couple of pensioners, vandalised every car I could find and set light to a few houses.
The truth is somewhat more prosaic. I was in my local Wetherspoon, which was having a real ale festival which featured pints being sold for £1.39. I had a couple of pints there, then went somewhere else for another half a pint and then went home. No trouble, no drink-fuelled violence, no yobbish behaviour.
And that indicates the problem with the House of Commons report. Regardless of the price of booze, most people do drink responsibly and don't end up causing trouble. Making booze more expensive will at best make only a marginal difference to drink-related problems and at worst will just penalise poorer people without making the slightest bit of difference to yobbish behaviour.
Let's be clear about this: the reason so many people are prone to getting completely off their heads on booze is not because of the price but because of lack of knowledge of the effects of alcohol, cultural issues, peer pressure and enforcement problems of existing laws.
To be fair, the House of Commons report does have some merit. There are some drinks promotions which are clearly irresponsible - the BBC's News at Ten highlighted one nightclub which was offering an 'all you can drink for £5' offer - and getting rid of these is not a problem.
But in general, using the price mechanism to tackle binge drinking and its consequences misses the point. What is needed instead is better education on the effects of booze, more alternatives for young people in the evenings than just a night in the pub, better policing and better enforcement of existing laws (eg withdrawal of licences either temporarily or permanently for people found guilty of serving people who are under-age or clearly intoxicated).
All of these are more likely to make a difference to the problems of binge drinking than getting rid of cheap booze in supermarkets. They would also have the advantage of not penalising the majority for the actions of a small minority.
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