Saturday, 24 March 2012

We are all poorer if we lose our local


There will no doubt be a plethora of comment concerning the proposal to introduce minimum pricing and I don’t propose to add much to it.  Except to say I am in favour and believe it will result in overall social benefit.  It is important for the proponents of minimum pricing to rebut the arguments put forward by such bodies as the British Retail Consortium that this will penalise the “responsible drinker.”  Highest estimates indicate that it will cost such a person approx £20, this is the price of a cheap concert ticket or modest three-course meal.  That’s all I wish to say about minimum pricing instead I wish to make a plea for us to support the British pub.

Following the budget the price of alcohol will rise above the level of inflation.  Due to their economies of scale the large supermarkets will absorb these.  However the pub will be forced to pass on these rises to the consumer or work on increasingly narrow profit margins.  I have recently published a review paper (Foster and Ferguson 2012) that pointed out the trend towards more drinking in our homes was long standing but now accelerating.  Home drinking is driven by cost, convenience and a perception alcohol is associated with rewarding a days work or childcare and intrinsic to relaxation and winding-down.  However arguably the most telling section of the paper was a Mintel internet survey (Mintel 2010) of adults showing 92 (11%) of those surveyed agreed that higher prices in supermarkets would not make them use pubs and bars more often.

Home drinking has clearly become a lifestyle choice for many people-does this matter?  A pub is much more than a place that sells alcohol or provides work.  In many places it is a social glue.  I come from the south west of England and have seen many villages that previously had a vibrant pub that has closed and have become virtual dormitories as a result.  Most thriving rural communities have a public house, post office and small supermarket (often the same place), once one of these goes the others swiftly follow and quality of life is diminished.  Some readers may feel this is the price of progress and are quite happy to buy virtually all their shopping under one roof but there are those left behind not able to exercise this option.  Many rural areas are low wage economies with at best unreliable public transport.  Using a pub cannot of itself ensure that an area retains its social coherence but losing may result in an isolated increasingly atomised area.

So how about if rather than bulk buying wine or beer on discount next time we embark on our weekly shop to accompany a la liga match or DVD box set, we made a conscious decision to spend that money and socialise in a public house.  Most pubs are well-run pleasant environments selling a selection of wines, beers and spirits and a licensee who has to achieve a balance between letting their customers enjoy themselves whilst ensuring safety for all.  It is not in their interests to let standards slip.  A pub that provides only alcohol is now unlikely to survive.  In the pubs that I use there are regular activities such as music events, movies, quiz nights and games such as dominos and cards to name but a few.  If you wish to you can watch Lionel Messi slalom through another hapless defence.   There is a return back to providing some of the social activities that used to characterise them in the 1970/80s but the environments are far more welcoming to men, women and at times children and the products being sold of a far higher quality. 

If we cease to become social beings, we care less about others or the environment in which we operate and we are all the poorer for it.  So let’s chose to spend some of our disposable income in a pub rather than at home.  It takes a little effort but it is worth it.          

Foster JH and Ferguson C. (2012) Home Drinking: A key challenge for Public Health. Alcohol and Alcoholism, DOI 10.1093/alcalc/ags020

Mintel. (2010) Alcohol purchasing in supermarkets-UK. URL:

Saturday, 17 March 2012

This is my first attempt at a blog so bear with me.  I am an alcohol researcher and in time most of my comments will be around alcohol use in the UK but this morning an article on the BBC news had me spitting feathers.  In the forthcoming budget the Coalition Government intends to stop national public sector pay deals in a bid to allow private sector pay in the regions of the UK to catch up.

When is this demonisation of the public sector going to stop?  Shortly there will be an increase in public sector pension contributions and this is likely to reduce most public sectors disposable income by £40-60 per year that is over £500 possible spending money lost to the wider economy annually per head.  Something that is barely mentioned when bland and complacent comments are made about economic growth.

The result of regional pay deals is likely to mean diminished standards of living to all but the very rich-why?  One of the failures of all politicians is to be honest about current employment in the UK.  Often a picture of work practices 30 years ago is assumed.  Jobs if they can be found now are often poorly paid, part-time, short-term contracts and with minimal employment protection.  This is the Britain of the much vaunted private sector led economy.

Now you can argue about whether it was a good policy to spread many public sector jobs outside of London and the South East.  I live in London and originally come from the south west and can attest that generally the standards of living are far lower outside what I have heard called the "gated community inside the M25" than within it.  The impact of regional pay deals is the disparity between the south east and the rest of Britian is likely to get wider.  A public sector salary in an area outside of the south east (e.g Newcastle) is likely to provide a good standard of living but this also supports businesses and services in the local area.  There does seem to be a belief held by some that public sector workers dont pay taxes or contribute to the wider economy.  I very much doubt business in areas such as the North West, North East, South Wales and Central Scotland (already struggling) to name but a few are jumping for joy.

We are all going to be poorer.  The aim is to allow private sector salaries to catch up in the regions.  It is not going to happen because there are no jobs now and thus for the few that exist low salaries can be paid in the regions.  This is the law of the market and we all know where that has led us.  In short the private sector is not going to catch up because of the structural changes in employment which politicians of all hues fail to acknowledge.  As a result of these vindictive proposals the country becomes more divided, the middle is squeezed even harder. the rich get richer as we slide inexorably further to the right.