Let’s think about delusion for a few minutes. [It gets a bit ranty below but it’s a daily journal not paid journalism.]
I heard that people in English pubs are throwing away the food they must buy in order to purchase alcohol. If we aren’t surprised, shouldn’t we wonder about addiction? And the motives behind opening the pubs?
Or perhaps it’s just the cost of meeting your mates when stress needs some relief. To the punter, the discarded meal is just the cost of a pint. Why not have two rather than three? Job done.
But while in the pubs, where they throw away food and buy alcohol, the Resolution Foundation estimates that the official poverty rate is increasing in Britain and now sits around 23%. They consider that the UK child poverty rate is more like 33%.
Why exactly are pubs open anywhere when one third of all children are living below the poverty line, perhaps starving but certainly nutritionally deprived?
Famine has always been a weapon of war. Famine was even brought up again in the Brexit discussions when Priti Patel (now a cabinet minister for Home Affairs) suggested that the UK government should use potential food shortages in Ireland as Brexit negotiation leverage.
Remember when the UK instigated the summer meal deal for the rich by giving £10 credits for people eating out. Eat Out to Help Out was used about 100 million times. Such hospitality. It’s equivalent to some thirty quid for each of the 3 million kids living in UK poverty. But of course, by spending money on food, there would have been a drink or two alongside each meal. So in real terms the cost to the Exchequer was offset by all of the taxes collected from the pubs. And the rich punter in the pub got some endorphins that helped them through their societal discomforts.
In Ireland, in 2017, there was a review published that outlined the economic consequences of alcohol misuse. I think it’s a useful place to get a sense of how much money is involved in alcohol.
The report, commissioned by the Department of Health, used data from 2013. It attributed a total societal cost from deaths, illness and crime due to alcohol misuse at about €2.35 billion.
So how much was the government making from alcohol? The same report based on 2013 data suggests that the tax raised on alcohol in that year, including both excise and VAT, was about €2 billion. Since the nation raised around €52 billion in all taxes in 2013, that makes alcohol tax revenue some 4% of the total tax take. Direct take that is. Obviously, the government took other taxes from profits at alcohol manufacturers, vendors, staff wages and advertising, to list the first few that occurred to me.
I recall counting the pints I drank one Michaelmas term as a student of the mid-70s. I was washing restaurant dishes by night to earn money for my tight budget and my only real social spend was in the pubs. Booze and fags. So I thought I needed to know how much to budget for the legitimate pastime of social drinking. Pubs back then were like secret places where drinking was done behind occluded glazing and closed doors. There were few pub TVs back then, doubtless the fog of cigarette and pipe smoke would have rendered their tiny screens invisible anyway. So we talked and laughed a lot, at least that’s how I want to remember it. And got home early(ish) to bed. Most nights. Maybe.
A pack of twenty of my preferred cigarettes was 39 p at the time. The average price today is 35 times greater at €14. My favourite pint of stout was then about 25 p. It’s risen to about €5 in the pub up the road this year. That’s a 20 fold rise.
In this thought experiment, I’m ignoring inflation. I only care for now that society has raised the cost of tobacco 35 fold while the pint has risen 20 fold. By my simplistic maths, society in Ireland has considered alcohol to be about 60% less problematic (20/35 times less dangerous?) than tobacco products during my working lifetime.
I found it much harder to stop smoking tobacco than to stop drinking alcohol. On the other hand, human livers shrink and become less efficient with age, perhaps dropping by 1% per annum from the age of 40. All I can say is that my tendency to get hangovers and vile ones at that, started about ten years before I realised that my liver wanted me to stop drinking. So I stopped my addictive smoking long after my brain knew it could give me cancer. And I cut out the drink because my body was begging my brain to intervene but it took me a while to accept the loss of the endorphin rush from those first few drinks.
And in 1975, you’ll want to know that I consumed just shy of 25 gallons in that Michaelmas term. That’s about two pints a day and maybe one of those was at lunch. Add a pack of cigarettes per day and that’s about €1 every day (since there was probably a bag of crisps for dinner too). Which in today’s numbers, according to inflation charts, should be about €6.
And there’s another delusion. Price inflation is a big driver but the tax burden has increased so much that the €6 (inflation adjusted) would be costing about €25. So why has the extra money raised by taxes not gone into healthcare? Or fighting poverty?
No wonder people smuggle cigarettes and booze for a living. No wonder the governments object.
No wonder people throw away perfectly good food when it’s just the cost of a pint. What a shame for kids living in poverty within a stone’s throw from the pubs.
But really, aren’t we simply failing to name and deal with addictions and reduce poverty?
After note 1: I found this Lancet article after I published. ‘Ireland spends the fifth highest amount on health in the world … the Irish health system is only now recovering from historic long-term underfunding.’
After note 2: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published this destitution report on December 9. These numbers are worse than those I quoted above.