Junk science and booze tax – a study in spin
“Let’s find out what everybody is doing, and stop them doing it” – A P Herbert
Putting the price of alcohol up to a minimum of 40p a unit would keep 41,000 people a year out of hospital, save the NHS £116m a year, and avoid 12,400 cases of unemployment, a report from Sheffield University claimed last week. These appear to be remarkably precise predictions. The government used the report – widely quoted in the press – to justify higher duties and greater regulation of the sale of alcohol. Yet on close examination, the report appears to be a prime example of “policy-based evidence making”.
The blockbuster report, from Sheffield University’s Section of Public Health, is in two major parts: a review of evidence, and a statistical model, totalling over 500 pages. Researchers examined the effects of alcohol pricing and alcohol promotion (and advertising) on three areas: consumption, public health and crime. I won’t cover the latter, because these proposals were dropped before the Queen’s Speech, but it is evident from the amount of time the Sheffield researchers devoted to this, that this was a legislative priority. Academia marches in lockstep with its financial benefactor – in this case, of course, the Department of Health.
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