A busy day yesterday. I went to a conference at the Wellcome Centre first, run by Alcohol Research UK, one of my funders. There were some great speakers, including Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, and Professor Mark Bellis. Most of the talk was about minimum unit pricing, and lots of evidence was produced. When you hear about minimum unit pricing in the media, there is talk of penalising responsible drinking, and a tax on the poor. I am pretty libertarian in my outlook, but I’m in favour of minimum pricing, and that view is based firstly on evidence. There is evidence in countries where a minimum price per unit has been introduced that all types of alcohol-related harms drop significantly, including liver disease (Russia) homicide (Russia), domestic violence (Australia). It’s basic economics that when prices go up, demand goes down, and there is no evidence at all that alcohol as a commodity behaves any differently to any other. A team at the University of Sheffield has been working for years on exploring different scenarios across different types of harm when alcohol is priced differently, and their findings are really compelling. Secondly though my view is based on my values, on the sort of world I want to live in. Alcohol doesn’t just harm the person drinking, it harms the people around them, and in this absolutely crucial in my view. Often the victims of other people’s drinking are women – domestic violence, sexual assault, having to take on even more of the share of parenting while a partner is drunk. I’m not saying all men become fiends when they have a drink, far from it, but some do. As do some women.
So, after a day of evidence, I went off to the House of Commons for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol to hear some opinions. There are some very good people on this group – Baroness Dianne Hayter, who used to be chairman of Alcohol Concern, a leading charity in the field, Tracy Crouch MP, and Sarah Wollaston MP. The key speaker last night was Anna Soubry, Health Minister. Two things were striking. Firstly, these four are all women. Secondly, the debate was interesting and covered many areas, but the people on the committee and their invited speakers did not discuss many of the research findings, indeed did not even seem aware of some of the key ones.
It’s great that these debates are happening, and moving in the right direction. However, to use a phrase I hate, is it time for a bit more joined-up thinking?