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Readers' Blog: Moderate drinkers will be hit hard

The pre-Budget submission from Alcohol Action Ireland demonstrates that there will be a massive price to pay for minimum unit pricing (MUP) by even moderate drinkers.

MUP will especially hit those of us classified as having middle or lower incomes.

Using products prices and figures cited by Alcohol Action Ireland, let’s look at the example of Brian and Susan. They are married with two children. Once their mortgage and childcare is paid, they don’t have much in the way of discretionary spending.

So with the exception of special occasions, they don’t dine out in restaurants or go to the pub. They buy cider and wine in their weekly shop.

Both consume less than the recommended limit per week for alcohol consumption. According to Alcohol Action Ireland this is 17 standard drinks for Brian and 11 for Susan. Brian has six cans of cider per week (12 standard drinks at 45 cent each) and Susan has 5x200ml glasses of wine per week (10 standard drinks at 56 cent each).

Adding it all up, Brian spends €327 per year on cider while Susan spends €291 per year on wine, giving a combined household spend on alcohol of €618 per year.

With the introduction of MUP, Brian’s can of cider will increase from 90 cent per can to a minimum of €2, while Susan’s bottle of wine will go from €4.20 to a minimum of €8.60.

If they were to continue with the same level of (moderate) consumption after MUP, their annual combined spend on alcohol will go from €618 per year to €1,320 per year.

That’s a drop of over €700 per year in their discretionary spending.

If the government were to introduce a new levy of €700, I’m sure there would be riots in the streets. However this is not even a tax, the difference goes to the retailer and the drinks industry. Consumers should also be aware that this is a ‘first pass’ price floor.

This will be reviewed on an annual basis so expect it to be index-linked to inflation at a minimum. At worst it will be used by the publican lobby to allow them to increase pub prices while bridging the gap with off-licence prices.

Furthermore, if MUP does what it is supposed to do (unlikely) then there would be a drop in excise duty, this shortfall will have to be addressed
by increasing other taxes or reducing services.

Alcohol Action Ireland state in their submission that men can reach their weekly safe alcohol limit for less than €10 in Ireland. You can reach that same limit in Germany for less than €5, yet Germany is not perceived as having a toxic relationship with alcohol.

The reality is that if the price of alcohol was the problem here then it would have been solved long ago.

We have the most expensive alcohol products in the eurozone. Instead of punishing ordinary people for the sins of a few, we need to educate people on the dangers of alcohol and tackle the abuse of it.

For example, we need to impose heavy penalties on those who are drunk and disorderly in public as well as mandatory prison sentences for those convicted of assaulting emergency personnel or hospital staff.

Although well meaning, this legislation is flawed, the result of group think between a government and a health lobby locked away in a room with no reference to consumers or economic realities,such at the border with Northern Ireland.

Other approaches must be pursued to avoid inflaming what is already a massive cost of living in Ireland.

Jim Mullins

Inniscarra

Cork

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