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Letwin: minimum pricing just “one way” of changing attitudes to alcohol abuse

Oliver Letwin MP, minister for government policy, has described minimum unit pricing as “one way of trying to affect behaviour” with regards anti-social drinking habits.

Oliver Letwin MP

Speaking at the recent Alcohol in Moderation (AIM) Conference, Letwin attempted to lay out the government’s stance towards alcohol and the promotion of socially responsible behaviour.

He stressed that in no way did the government wish to “eliminate people ever drinking again,” but also added that it was extremely difficult for an administration to hit upon the right solution.

There needed to be “conscious experimentation” he said adding that there exists a “dynamic between the government and the media which reduces everything to a level of crudity whereby experimentation is limited.

“There is no one answer and so we are trying a broad manner of things.”

He continued that on the one side it was necessary that those selling and promoting alcohol were doing so responsibly but he also stressed the need to have a population that “of its own free will, will choose to behave in a responsible way”.

He said: “Governments and lawmakers are more used to restricting what people can do rather than adjusting their mindsets.

“We can’t use ‘blunt’ legislative action to restrict the amount people are consuming. We can’t introduce the ‘AIM Bill’ it’s just not practical.

“How can you adjust attitudes? That’s why it’s a field of experimentation. We could, in theory, raise the minimum price to a level which makes it impossible for any but the extraordinarily rich to buy but people would find a way round it.

“Similarly, it can’t be too low as it wouldn’t have any effect. Minimum pricing is an effort to achieve a subtle behavioural effect.

“It’s one way and one that needs to be surrounded by other factors, including teaching in schools.”

He even suggested that it would be possible to “adjust policy as evidence emerges as to the effects” on how successful they are proving.

In terms of how alcohol education in the UK can be improved, Letwin said that so far there were no plans in place to change the current system as several criteria were required before a new system could be adopted.

He said: “We need to ask, how does schooling change behaviour patterns and how long do those changes persist?

“There is an extremely persistent tendency in part of the population to continue in a harmful way. Therefore, where it’s possible to find lasting educational methods, they’ll be worth pursuing.”

The Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, Diana Johnson, recently called for alcohol education to be incorporated into the national curriculum.


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