Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The real cost of alcohol

What is the cost of a bottle of whisky or beer? No I don't mean the price I mean the cost. The real cost has to take account of the effects of alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption is linked to more than 60 medical conditions. The total cost of alcohol harm has been estimated as £20 billion in England, £680 million in Northern Ireland, £3.6bn in Scotland and £1bn in Wales. These figures include more than £2bn in healthcare costs. That is a big price to pay! The £20 billion in England would be enough to fill the gap in NHS funding. 

The BMA has a campaign to increase the price of alcohol. Now a new study by Cardiff University has highlighted the link between the price of alcohol and the fall in violent crime.


Commenting on the findings of study, Professor Sheila Hollins, Chair of the BMA's Board of Science, has said:

"A drop violent crime is positive news, especially if linked to changes in drinking habits.

"With the costs of alcohol related harm estimated at £25bn across the UK, of which more than £3bn is on healthcare, there are clear economic, social and public health cases for tackling problem drinking.

"We know there is a link between the cost and consumption of alcohol, highlighted again in this study, which is why the BMA is calling for a minimum unit price of at least 50p per unit to tackle problem drinking.

"This makes the government's U-turn on minimum pricing, as well as their decision to scrap the alcohol escalator and reduce beer duty, all the more worrying.

"Alcohol misuse places serious strain on a number of already overstretched public services which is why doctors, the police and emergency services all support minimum unit pricing.

"Prevention is better - and cheaper - than cure, and if the government is serious about tackling alcohol related harm, it needs review its position on minimum unit pricing, which would reduce harm amongst the heaviest drinkers while leaving responsible drinkers largely unaffected."

Here are some sobering facts about alcohol consumption:

More than 10 million adults in England are drinking more than the recommended daily limit.
80% of purchases are made by 30% of the population.
Alcohol-related deaths in the UK doubled from 4,023 in 1992 to 8,790 in 2010.

Excess alcohol consumption costs lives. That is the true cost. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

When we should die?

The craziest proposal from the government on pensions is that everyone will be given 'advice' on their life expectancy. This is an absurd misjudgement about the nature of health science. The idea that data obtained and applicable at a population level can be given for an individual is wide of the mark. Not only is it crazy, it is also from an insurance point of view highly dangerous. It begs also the question of who will give this advice and on what it will be based. Frankly I doubt if the medical profession would touch it with a barge pole.

Unless someone has a particular condition with a particular prognosis a GP would be unable to judge for any of their patients how long they will live. Of course an average life expectancy for the population is available together with relative risks from smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and so on. But it is all somewhat guesswork for any given individual.

So the government having made the decision to 'allow' people to spend their retirement savings as they wish discover it is potentially a dangerous policy. Now they want to tell us how long we may expect to live in retirement. Next they will want to tell us when we should die, and then...It is all a very dangerous state of affairs.  

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Maria Miller's lack of ethical compass

The Culture Secretary Maria Miller has resigned. She is yet another self inflicted wound. But how does it happen? Is there something wrong with the way of thinking that gets politicians trapped in this way?  I think the answer is yes. It is an inability to distinguish between what might be 'legal' and what might be ethical.

I didn't do anything wrong is the line taken by the former Culture Secretary. It was also the line taken by Mr Cameron. She didn't do anything 'wrong'. What he meant of course was that she 'followed the rules', and where she may have made a 'mistake' she has apologised. It is all a misunderstanding, and everything really is rosy in the garden, except for the lingering smell of rotting vegetation.

Sadly it indicates that they have no ethical compass. There is nothing in their thinking that asks whether something is ethical rather than simply 'following the rules'. There it is - the problem.

And what are these 'rules'. Essentially without an ethical compass, it is whatever they can get away with that doesn't constitute a breach of the law. As long as they feel that they can say 'I did nothing wrong' then they also conclude that what they do is right. Ethics isn't following rules - it is making some kind of judgement about the right course of action.

One golden rule on this is that you should be able to taste whether something isn't right. You wouldn't eat a stale banana. It would make you sick. And so it should be with expenses claims. If it doesn't taste good then it probably isn't. But in this case it won't just make Maria Miller sick, it will make the public sick - sick of the endless feeding from the trough without regard to ethics.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

No sense prevails on badger cull


New plans to eradicate bovine TB in England unveiled by DEFRA today. 

There were many experts who warned that the badger cull would not work. An independent report now confirms the worst fears. That many badgers were killed inhumanely with many badgers taking longer than 5 min to die.  The cull failed to reach its effective target. Yet the Environment Secretary Owen Patterson ploughs on regardless. 

A comprehensive Strategy to "achieve TB free status in England by 2038" has been announced by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson today.

This includes continuing to strengthen cattle movement controls, a grant-funded scheme for badger vaccination projects in the ‘edge area’ at the frontier of the disease, and improvements to the four-year badger cull pilots in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

DEFRA say that following recommendations from the Independent Expert Panel that assessed the badger cull pilots last year, a series of changes will be made to improve the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of culling. "These changes will be monitored to assess their impact before further decisions are taken on more badger cull licences next year."

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson says:

"The four year culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire are pilots and we always expected to learn lessons from them.

It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better.

Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease which is devastating our cattle and dairy industries and causing misery for many people in rural communities. We need to do everything we can, as set out in our Strategy, to make England TB free."

But the scientific evidence before the badger cull was at best equivocal and at worst indicated that a cull was likely to make the problem of TB spread worse not better. Owen Patterson with an eye on the farming lobby ignored the evidence and went ahead with the pilot culls. 

He now says:

"Improvements to the pilot culls will include more extensive training for contractors carrying out the cull, better planning by the licensed companies to ensure culling is spread evenly across all land available and better data collection to assess progress. The changes being introduced will help increase the effectiveness of the culls by removing more badgers in a safe and humane way.

There will be a trial of a new service in Somerset and Gloucestershire to provide farmers with bespoke advice on how to better protect their farms from disease. This service will be available to all farmers within the licensed cull areas."

 The truth is Owen Patterson fails to learn from the lesson of the pilot culls. Killing badgers won't work. 

Farage bests Clegg in TV debate

What surprised me about the Nigel Farage - Nick Clegg debate was that Clegg made no real attempt to extol the positives of EU membership. His arguments were defensive not of our EU membership but of his own position. They were also negative rather than positive.

What is odd about the outcome is that Clegg's opening statement was good. In my view better than Farage. Clegg was being positive, but then it all changed.

Clegg attacked Nigel Farage, trying to ridicule his opponent instead of countering Farage's arguments. Clegg missed the opportunity to say why the Liberal Party supports membership of the EU. It was a missed opportunity.

Clegg spent several minutes not arguing about the EU but about Syria! It was a side issue. The debate Mr Clegg was about the EU! A wasted opportunity.

It is therefore no surprise that Nigel Farage came out on top. Even the Liberal spin doctors found it difficult to spin a win for their man. In short, Farage wiped the floor with Mr Clegg and got away with calling Mr Clegg a liar. The reason he got away with that is because Mr Clegg also took the decision to attack Mr Farage. He should have dealt with the issues - he didn't and Farage came out on top.

Debating with Farage was always something of a gamble. It was a gamble and Clegg lost. You cannot debate facts with a man who appeals to gut instinct - and you can't do it by underestimating your opponent. Ridiculing Farage is to ridicule many voters who agree with the main thrust of his argument. It is the classic mistake. Mr Clegg for all his skill was simply angry. His undoubted skill in debate deserted him. He floundered. It was not a pretty site.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Cable's idiotic defence on Royal Mail

The Business Secretary Vince Cable has that unfortunate demeanour of somebody who got it right. He would have us believe that he got it right in predicting the financial collapse. He didn't of course but legends are often allowed to grow in politics. Now he insists he got it right over the sale of the Royal Mail despite criticism from the financial watchdog, the National Audit Office, that the Royal Mail was sold off too cheap.

Vince Cable defends his decision saying that the sale achieved its objective of selling the company and 'reducing the risk to taxpayer'. It is a bizarre defence. Selling the company for 1p would also have achieved that objective. What he failed to do was to get the best deal for the British taxpayer. But Vince Cable knows best. It is an idiotic defence.