The actions of governments and other authorities always have unintended consequences. Sometimes these are beneficial, but they can often be detrimental to the general good. This will be the case when an incentive is created that encourages unwanted actions.
Let’s look at three examples around current stories in Wales Online and in the South Wales Echo.
Prescriptions stay free…
The cost of free prescriptions in Wales has risen to almost £600m annually, an average of 22 items being dispensed for every person. This is the highest level of dispensing in the United Kingdom and there is a debate as to whether the policy is affordable.
Doctors’ leaders and politicians in favour of the policy say that the high level of dispensing in Wales is unrelated to them being free.
I rely on prescription medication to enjoy a good quality of life, maybe for life itself. So I’m very grateful not to pay for each item, unlike the £7-40 charge people in England pay. I’ve paid plenty of taxes during the 40 years I’ve worked, and I continue to do so, so I don’t feel guilty about it.
However, I have also changed my behaviour to get more items on prescription. When prescription charges here were at their highest, I would buy small items, like hay fever medication, over the counter because it was cheaper. Now they are free if I get them prescribed, so naturally that’s what I do. I doubt that I’m the only one. Unintended consequence #1.
….but Carrier Bags will cost …
I was on a personal crusade to reuse carrier bags many years before anyone else that I knew, and long before ‘bags for life’. I had to argue with shop assistants who tried to give me a “nice ,new clean one”. Now you get incentives to reuse – and quite rightly so.
From October 1st, we’ll all have to pay at least 5p for every new bag we get with our shopping. I don’t know about you, but I’m making sure I get a bag every time I buy something this month. The meter reader will just have to fight his way through the under-stairs cupboard where I’m stocking them up for the future. Unintended consequence #2.
… and Cardiff Bus gets less convenient
I’ve only just got my bus pass and the service I can use to get to work has being re-routed. Because our local 60/62 service in Fairwater has been cut to an hourly service and doesn’t intersect with a service to the Bay, taking the bus to and from work already takes up to an hour and usually involves two walks of around 10 minutes in each direction. Good for my health perhaps, but no fun on a wet and cold day.
Now the No. 6 (‘Baycar’) service is being rerouted and will no longer pass the large Adventures Quay residential complex and Caspian Point offices, where I and hundreds of others work. The nearest stop will be at the Millennium Centre. Cardiff Bus claims that this is 300m away. I’ve checked on the map and I make it over 400m. Cardiff Bus offer us the alternative of the no. 8 service, which is less frequent, doesn’t serve the back
of the central station and is scheduled to take 20 minutes to reach Pierhead Street via Grangetown compared to 9 minutes for the no. 6 route.
The consequence will be that my travelling time will increase by about 15 minutes a day, meaning travelling by public transport will take at least an hour and a half extra out of my day compared to using my car. I value my time, so I am not persuaded to leave the car at home on a regular basis, whether the bus is free for me or not.
At least the free prescriptions and the carrier bag charges are well intentioned. With Cardiff Bus, it’s hard to know. I don’t believe that they consulted the residents or the businesses affected by this change, and they haven’t answered my recent emails. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they do want people to travel with them and leave their cars at home. In which case, we can say that forcing me to drive is unintended consequence #3.