Lost in the Sin Tax

20/03/2012 11:40 GMT | Updated 20/05/2012 10:12 BST

We in the wine industry are generally of a sanguine temperament. We're boisterous, creative, thoughtful, sociable and confident pleasure-seekers. However when the economy gets bad, we keep smiling with stiff upper lips because we know that the great British people share our pleasure in a quality beverage.

Successive governments have relentlessly battered the alcohol industry with increase after increase in what they hideously call a 'sin tax'. This is starting to have an impact and in the wine industry, our normally good mannered blood is starting to rise.


In the upcoming budget, or the "government's pursuit of wealth" as we call it, they will hit the alcohol industry, and therefore people who enjoy a responsible drink, with another increase in alcohol duty. Well why not, you have loads of money don't you? On the bright side, at least another disproportionate tax grab on alcohol might stop you from noticing their failure to stabilise our ailing economy.


Plainly and simply, increasing the duty on alcohol is laziness. It's an easy source of revenue that can be dipped into whenever the government feels like it. There are two equally slovenly arguments to support increasing the sin tax.


The first argument to support the sin tax is what David Cameron calls the "unacceptable behaviour" that excessive alcohol consumption causes.

In his opinion the best way to curb the drunken carnage and anarchy on our streets at the weekend is to increase a tax that has been increased many times before with very little impact. Does anybody else feel a little bit of sloth slipping back into this approach? Why not try educating people?

Lager sales in the UK are falling, this is in part because people want to drink something more interesting and of a higher quality. There's a willingness on the part of the public to drink less, but drink better, and this trend should be nurtured and promoted.

It would also be worth having a closer look at the laws that allow publicans to serve a group of young lads and lasses their eighth round of vodka red bulls, with very little risk of being prosecuted, despite the fact that it's illegal to serve someone who is drunk. With the police force being cut back, it's pretty obvious why the police waiting in the city centres for the mayhem to ensue, are not strolling into the pubs to monitor who is breaking the law.


The second argument is that excessive alcohol consumption is unhealthy and puts a strain on the NHS. But high street wine merchants are responsible retailers who do not pile up cheap booze and special offers.

We in the industry therefore cannot understand why we are consistently singled out.

The £5 price tag on a bottle of wine from Oddbins comprises 55% direct taxation; the remaining £2.25 is divvied up between freight, packaging and modest margins for Oddbins and the producer.

A supermarket curry of roughly the same price may contain almost all of your recommended daily limit of saturated fat and half of your recommended daily limit of salt. It is recognised that nation's waistlines are ballooning and that obesity also puts an enormous strain on the NHS.

But interestingly the supermarket curry, by no ways the most evil food on the market, doesn't contribute a penny of tax to help alleviate the damage it has caused. And the government doesn't seem too concerned about this. Is this because our government, who profess to be on the side of the individual and social responsibility, trust us to make our own decisions on food but not on drink?

So, while the government continues to tar us with the same stupid brush when it comes to alcohol, we would be grateful if they would remember that alcohol is not the only contributor to our less than perfect public health. In fact, quite regularly we are told that a glass of wine can be good for us, and have you ever met a doctor that doesn't enjoy a glass of wine?


Dante describes envy as "a desire to deprive other men of theirs". While sitting in heavily tax-payer subsidised House of Commons bars, politicians devise new ways to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Minimum pricing and duty increases do not hit the wealthy consumers, but rather those of us who are described as the 'squeezed middle.'

At the end of the day when we prise our tired noses from the grindstone, the happiness, or respite from unhappiness, delivered by a glass of wine should not be underestimated.


Pride is the worst of all of the sins. We know that many small and medium enterprises just like ourselves will be hurt by this budget. These are the businesses that with the right backing can deliver spending and income to our floundering economy.

The government's measures punish these small industries and play into the hands of the supermarkets. The increase in the sin tax will not prevent the supermarkets stacking up mountains of "minimum price" sweet Californian rosé and special offer beers, so handy to grab with the other groceries whether you intended to drink or not, because the supermarkets can make money on other products or squeeze a little more life out of their suppliers.

The government's measures will instead put the squeeze on knowledgeable and responsible wine merchants, who offer tastings and advice on the merits of their customers' purchases.


If David Cameron is going to continue to flog a very dead sin tax horse, please have the grace to admit it's only for the money that it can generate. Maybe Dave can invite George and the other extremely rich members of the Bullingdon Club, known for its debauchery and alcohol abuse, round to throw some stones in his glass house.

In the meantime we'll risk eternal Cam-nation and continue to have our lustful thoughts about wine. We'll do our utmost to seek out the most delicious and best value wines for you. But please be aware that, though we do not wish to raise the prices of our wine, like a masochistic yoga instructor, the government continues to make a very difficult position more painful.