Binge drinking is a problem that has seen much attention, especially with regards to minimum price controls. However, in this blog, we consider attention in this sector concerning taxation on beer.
Alcohol is widely considered to be a de-merit good with negative externalities imposing external costs on society. This is one of the reasons why taxes are imposed on alcoholic beverages. By increasing production costs to the firms providing these drinks, prices rise and hence the policy aims to discourage consumption.
During the recession, many businesses have seen demand fall and one sector hit particularly hard because of this and very high tax rates has been the local pub community. Duty on beer has increased since 2008 by some 42%. As such, many rural and suburban communities have seen their local watering holes close down and this has led to a campaign by CAMRA to force a debate in Parliament, as a means of protecting ‘one of Britain’s oldest and best loved institutions’. Data suggests that 12 pubs per week are closing down, thus the future of the industry is now under threat. This may also have further damaging effects on local communities, as it may adversely affect the social aspect of communities. Camra’s Chief Executive, Mike Benner said:
‘Whether situated in a small village, city high street, or on the edge of a housing estate, pubs are so central to our society that whole communities can grow around a particular pub.’
According to a study, pubs in Lancashire and the West Midlands have been hardest hit by the pub closures. If pubs don’t pass the tax increase on to consumers in the form of higher prices, then they must bear the burden. If they do pass the tax rises on to consumers then the larger chain firms can increase their market share by selling at a lower price. They are also facing growing pressure from the supermarket industry, which are able to sell cheap alcohol, also contributing to going to the pub becoming an ‘unaffordable activity’. The following articles consider this industry.
Pub closures spark beer tax plea The Press Association (30/4/12)
A dozen pubs close each week Telegraph, James Hall (30/4/12)
Calls for beer tax rethink as 12 pubs shut every week BBC Radio 1, News Beat, Steve Holden (30/4/12)
Pubs in the West Midlands hit hardest by pub closures ITV News (30/4/12)
- Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on a product such as beer.
- In this market, would the tax be more likely to be borne by the producers or consumers? Explain your answer and illustrate on the previous diagram why this is the case.
- Why are supermarkets able to compete local pubs out of the alcohol market? Do you think a minimum price will have any effect?
- What is a de-merit good? Illustrate the concept of a negative externality on a diagram.
- Explain how a de-merit good causes the market to fail. To what extent does the tax on beer solve the market failure?
- Why are there likely to be adverse effects on local communities? Could this have an adverse effect on economic activity in the area?
A huge majority of the British population are in agreement on one thing: UK drinking is out of control. At a cost to the NHS of over £2 billion per annum, it’s quite obvious that the current ‘binge drinking’ culture is unsustainable for those doing the drinking and for the NHS.
This issue was raised back in January 2010, when the Labour government came under pressure to impose a minimum price on alcohol. (see All-you-can-drink bans) The report published in early January suggested that a minimum price on alcohol of 50p per unit would save more than 3000 lives per year. Dr. Richard Taylor said:
“The evidence we took showed that minimum pricing was the most effective way forward and at the moment you can sometimes buy beer cheaper than water. Our message is that the price would be put up but only by a little for moderate drinkers. Surely that is a sacrifice to pay for the good health of young people.”
The Coalition’s plan is to introduce a minimum price for alcohol, which would increase the price of a can of lager to a minimum of 38p and a litre bottle of vodka would be a minimum of £10.71. By increasing the price of alcohol, it is hoped that demand will be reduced and this will go some way to tackling the problem of binge drinking.
However, many argue that the proposal will be ineffective. Some believe that the minimum price is not high enough and that such a small increase will have no effect. Others argue that it will only affect small supermarkets and will have a significantly adverse effect on pubs, which are already struggling. Furthermore, a concern is that by raising the price of alcohol, the only people who will suffer are the so-called ‘sensible’ drinkers. Those who go out and binge drink will be largely unresponsive to the higher price.
How can raising the price of alcohol improve health BBC News, Michelle Roberts (18/1/11)
Pub association responds to alcohol minimum price BBC News (18/1/11)
SNP refuses Britain-wide alcohol minimum price Telegraph, Simon Johnson (19/1/11)
Experts say the new minimum prices on alcohol sales are not enough Wales Online, Abby Alford (19/1/11)
UK drinking ‘is out of control’, two thirds of public believe Guardian, Alan Travis (18/1/11)
Alcohol price plans will only save 21 lives per year, says expert Telegraph, Tom Whitehead (19/1/11)
Supermarkets forced to charge ‘minimum price’ for alcohol in bid to curb binge drinking Mirror News, James Lyons (18/1/11)
Alcohol House of Commons Health Committee (10/12/09)
- Using a diagram, explain how a minimum price control on alcohol will work. What are the likely effects?
- Which factors will determine the effectiveness of the minimum price?
- Why is it that ‘binge drinkers’ may not be responsive to the higher price?
- The Mirror article refers to ‘loss leaders’. What are they and how are they relevant here?
- What other policies could be used to tackle binge drinking?
- Given that taxes on products such as alcohol and cigarettes raise so much tax revenue for the government, would there be an adverse effect by raising the minimum price on alcohol?
- Why is the current drinking culture unsustainable?
- Is alcohol a de-merit good? Why is it an example of market failure?