University of Sheffield

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The University of Sheffield is the organisation that purported to perform research for the BBC's Panorama programme guestimating what effect minimum pricing would have on the population of England were a minimum price to be adopted.

Unfortunately, someone "fat-fingered their keyboard," which resulted in a massive overestimate of the potential number of Old Age Pensioners lives that would be saved by 3⅓ times, increasing the nebulous 1,150 lives 'saved' per year to 50,000 per decade (see what I did there?)

As a result, the BBC had to issue a correction on their news article[1], and had to pull the iPlayer version of Panorama to re-edit the program in light of the 'new' figures[2].

The Sheffield Alcohol Research Group of University of Sheffield, themselves claim

3,060 fewer deaths and 97,700 fewer hospital admissions in the tenth year after policy implementation[3]

So quite how the figure of 5,000 elderly lives saved per year from year one slipped out to be echoed via MSM passim, ad nauseum, and to sock-puppets such as[4] without peer-review, can only be imagined.

Explaining the correction, the BBC gives this as the reason they were told:

The University emphasised the human error was wholly on their part and has apologised unreservedly to the BBC.[2]

Doubts over research

It appears that even the research carried out by the University of Sheffield is somewhat suspect:

The results of the Sheffield research [for minimum pricing for the Scottish Parliament] are, after all, a totem carved from conjecture and guesswork (something which the authors of the report have themselves point out).


I admit that I am not qualified to “pick holes” in this research with authority. But, with fond memories of my MA in Sociology from some ten years ago, I do have some observations. The Sheffield research model for the relationship between price and consumption is an “econometric” model. This has been challenged by some sociologists and economists because it is model based on conjecture, and therefore there is some question about the reliability of using inferences to launch a major policy when such models are untested in reality. The Sheffield research indicates: “[d]ue to data limitations, the change in levels of peak consumption has to be estimated indirectly”.


In fact, a number of the results in the Sheffield research are based on estimates: daily maximum consumption for 11 to 15 year olds is estimated; it is assumed that that the peak consumptions for 11 to 15 year olds are the same as 16 and 17 year olds; the data used is from 2003 (other sources indicate consumption levels have fallen in the last 3 years);...[5]


The Sheffield team do acknowledge some quite significant discrepancies between their model and previous work. Faced with the fact that their methodology produces results inconsistent with other findings for price elasticity in heavier drinkers they do provide an analysis that is consistent with the literature…

“To enable more direct comparability with the estimates in the literature we have also generated elasticity estimates for total alcohol purchasing from the EFS, shown in Table 11. These are in broad agreement with the literature, showing that - at the highest level of aggregation – hazardous and harmful drinkers (combined elasticity of -0.21) are less price elastic than moderate drinkers (elasticity of -0.47).”

….but then ignore it.

“Note that these high-level estimates are provided for reference only and are not included in the model.”



Between the report being initially released in 2009, and 2013, various figures in the report were hugely reduced, to the point where it would make minimum pricing moot:

2009: 45p minimum price would cut consumption by 4.3%

2013: 45p minimum price would cut consumption by 1.6%

2009: It would save 344 lives in year 1 and 2,040 lives a year by year 10

2013: It would save 123 lives in year 1 and 624 lives a year by year 10

2009: Alcohol admissions would be down by 66,200

2013: Alcohol admissions would be down by 23,700

2009: Year one direct health savings of £58.6m and cumulative ten year saving of £1,074m

2013: Year one direct health savings of £25.3m and cumulative ten year saving of £417.2m

2009: Total societal value of harm reduction £6.6bn

2013: Total societal value of harm reduction £3.4bn[7]