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Monday, 24 May 2010

Sweeping it under the carpet

I think it's fairly safe to say that, with all the cut backs that the government has announced (except on defence and nuclear weapons, naturally ~ it's more important to have ways of killing people rather than keeping them alive through the NHS), the beer tax escalator is here to stay for a good while. For those of us who value our local pubs for a variety of reasons, this is particularly sad because an industry that is already reeling because of predatory pub companies, cheap supermarket booze and excessive taxation, will definitely suffer under even more financial pressure.

Of course ministers will state that not only is it financially necessary to continue over-taxing beer to preserve hospitals, schools and front-line public services, but that there are also health reasons why the tax escalator is good, as it will reduce drinking, save X thousands of lives and save the health service Y millions of pounds. This is so much cant because as a public health measure, the excessive taxing of drink in pubs is a complete failure. As more and more people get out of the pub habit through financial necessity, many of them will go to the supermarket and stock up there. It mightn't be the same as going to the pub, but at least you can have a drink at an affordable price. But if you live alone (or perhaps if you don't get on with those you live with), then you are likely to suffer from the effects of being isolated, which can lead to mental health problems, especially when combined with uncontrolled, cheap, excessive boozing. Pubs provide a wonderful opportunity to meet people in a regulated environment and escape the four walls of your living room at a price that everyone should be able to afford.

Having met quite a few politicians over the years, I don't believe that they are so stupid that they cannot see that these policies will drive many people to solitary, unregulated drinking with all the health consequences - physical and mental - that may ensue. I can only conclude that they view it as a price worth paying, and at least home drinkers don't cause law and order problems on the streets.

This, to me, is the essence of traditional British hypocrisy: sweeping a problem under the carpet. No one really gains by this misguided policy: not the pub goer, not the pubs, not the home drinker, and certainly not the Treasury as fewer people can afford to go out for a drink, pubs continue to close as a consequence and people lose their jobs.

P.S. 25 May: this morning by coincidence, just hours after posting this, I heard a report on BBC Radio 4 by the Mental Health Foundation about how serious a problem loneliness can be. You can find it here.

1 comment:

  1. Politicians of all parties do seem to be unaware that home drinking is on the rise. You are right, Nev, to say that it is more damaging for public health. There is a rise in alcohol-related disease among wine drinkers, partly because wine is now stronger in alcohol content than it was 20 years ago and partly because so many people have "lost the pub habit", as Nev puts it. As a society, we seem to be becoming more atomised, with community centres like the church, the social club and now the pub falling out of favour. The consequences will be dire.

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