Minimum price plan to end cheap alcohol sales


Guy Mason from Morrisons believes minimum unit prices for alcohol would punish responsible customers

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Ministers are proposing a minimum price of 45p a unit for the sale of alcohol in England and Wales as part of a drive to tackle problem drinking.

The Home Office has launched a 10-week consultation on the plan, arguing it will help reduce the levels of ill-health and crime related to alcohol.

It is also considering banning multi-buy promotions, such as two-for-the-price-of-one.

The 45p proposal is 5p higher than the figure suggested by ministers in March.

It comes after pressure has been mounting on the government to follow Scotland's lead, where 50p has been proposed.

The aim of a minimum price would be to alter the cost of heavily-discounted drinks sold in shops and supermarkets. It is not expected to affect the price of drinks in many pubs.

The Home Office said the consultation was targeted at "harmful drinkers and irresponsible shops".

A spokesman added: "Those who enjoy a quiet drink or two have nothing to fear from our proposals."

The 45p minimum would mean a can of strong lager could not be sold for less than £1.56 and a bottle of wine below £4.22.

Research carried out by Sheffield University for the government shows a 45p minimum would reduce the consumption of alcohol by 4.3%, leading to 2,000 fewer deaths and 66,000 hospital admissions after 10 years.

The number of crimes would drop by 24,000 a year as well, researchers suggested.

Alcohol priced at 45p per unit

There has been evidence of some outlets selling alcohol at a loss to encourage customers through the doors, with cans of lager going for 20p and two-litre bottles of cider available for under £2.


Ministers have been particularly critical of such practices, blaming them for what has been dubbed "pre-loading", where people binge-drink before going out.

They have linked this phenomenon to the rising levels of alcohol-related violence and hospital admissions, of which there are more than a million a year.

But the idea of introducing a minimum price - first proposed at 40p in the government's alcohol strategy published in March - has been met with opposition by the industry.

The Scottish government plan, which is not due to start until April 2013, was challenged on legal grounds by the Scotch Whisky Association and the European Spirits Organisation.

What's a unit?

  • Half a pint of standard strength (4%) beer, cider or lager
  • A single pub measure of spirit (25ml)
  • Half a standard 175ml glass of wine

They claimed it was up to Westminster, rather than Holyrood, to decide such an issue and they said it was also incompatible with the EU's "general principles of free trade and undistorted competition".

The legal challenges were heard in the Court of Session in Edinburgh last month and a judgement is expected before the end of the year.

Separately the European Commission is looking into the legality of the Scottish government's actions.

In Northern Ireland, consideration is also being given to minimum pricing, although no final decision has been taken yet.

Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Most major retailers believe minimum pricing and controls on promotions are unfair to most customers. They simply penalise the vast majority, who are perfectly responsible drinkers, while doing nothing to reduce irresponsible drinking.

"The government should recognise the role of personal responsibility. It should not allow interfering in the market to regulate prices and promotions to become the default approach for public health policy."

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, agreed, saying there was "no evidence" minimum alcohol pricing would be effective in tackling alcohol misuse.

The 45p effect

On the face of it, there seems to be little difference between the 45p minimum unit price for alcohol now being proposed and the 40p figure put forward earlier this year.

But in terms of consumption levels - and the subsequent criminal and health costs - the shift is significant.

Research by Sheffield University shows that at 45p consumption drops by 4.3% - a 75% greater effect than would be seen at 40p.

In terms of deaths over a 10-year period, the impact is nearly double. A 45p minimum will save over 2,000 lives compared to under 1,200 for 40p. The effect on crime is also two-fold.

But what the research also shows is that another 5p on the minimum price to bring it to 50p - as Scotland has done - would see a similar increase in impact, which is why campaigners have been pushing for more.

Another area of interest - and possible controversy - is the effect this will have on moderate drinkers.

The research shows a 45p minimum price also affects their buying habits, reducing consumption by 2.3%. That is greater than the reduction likely to be seen in young hazardous drinkers - the so-called binge drinkers.

But health campaigners believe a minimum price is an important step in tackling problem drinking.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, from the British Medical Association, said the changes in pricing could help to stop young people binge drinking.

She told the BBC: "Alcohol is a dose-related poison, in other words the more you drink the more harm it causes, so by reducing the amount they are drinking over the safe limit you are helping to save them.

"It isn't a small minority of the population who are drinking excessively, it's nearly a quarter. That's a huge number of people who are drinking at levels that are hazardous to their health and we really have to throw everything we can (at it) to save lives."

Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "We're paying a heavy price for alcohol misuse and setting a minimum unit price will help us on the road to changing this.

"But we cannot cut the misery caused by excessive drinking, whether it's crime or hospitalisation, through price alone.

"We need tighter controls around licensing, giving local authorities and police forces all the tools they need to get a firm grip on the way alcohol is being sold in their area. We have an opportunity to make an enormous difference to the lives of thousands of people - we must seize it."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    It is disgusting that this extra tax is brought in under the guise of its good for your health, and it will stop the binge drinkers, the real reasons are obvious, the pub industry lobbyists have won the day, this is supposed to drive us back into pubs.. It wont work and it will cost you votes, i for one see this as a reason to change my vote. which i will do if the measure is adopted

  • rate this

    Comment number 734.

    I welcome any plans like this that could tackle the health and social problem this country faces. Education hasn't worked because some people are too stupid to listen. Alcohol and tobacco have a long term effect on your health but because it doesn't affect them in the here and now, people assume it's not as bad as the big bad government makes out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 733.

    So does this mean that Sir Alex Furguson is going to lose his 'whiskey nose' ? Er, no.

    Call be cynical but the only thing this will help tackle is our deficit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 732.


  • rate this

    Comment number 731.

    Ok so its not a direct Tax, however increase in price means an increase in duty ie VAT, supermarkets/shops make more and the Taxers take is increased too.. will be interesting to see how it pans out over 12 months.
    Consuption up or down?

  • rate this

    Comment number 730.

    What is all the fuss about? Anything worth drinking starts at about £7 a bottle, for a half decent bottle of wine anyway, so it wont make any difference unless you drink the equivalent of meths.
    People that do abuse cheap alcohol cost the system lots of money so they should pay for it. This is not going to effect the normal person. Just the low life abusers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    A better idea might be to pay £10,000 into an alcohol bond on your 18th birhtday this would allow you to drink and every time you need nhs help it comes from your bond. No bond no treatment same goes for repairing your neighbours fence when you fall into after a bender, no bond off to jail. Bond grows by 3.5% pa and if you never need it you get it back at 65 as a retirment addition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    I moderate my drinking, but when can we see and get decent non-alcoholic beers served in pubs? Also, come on brewers continue to make better and better tasting low-alcohol beers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    Cost of alcohol isnt the problem its the culture of society in general. France has much cheaper alcohol in shops. You wont see young French people drunk and fighting all the time but you do see young people and families socialising in local bars and restaurants. Forget increasing prices and look at culture change and encouraging family values first

  • rate this

    Comment number 726.

    The problem with drink is NOT with price in this country. We have a very immature attitude towards alcohol and until that changes absolutely nothing will change. Also. if this happens, watch the amount of illegal booze skyrocket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.

    How does the maths work? e.g. 1 unit = 125ml of a 12.5% bottle of wine. Therefore 6 units to a bottle. Therefore 6 x 45p = £2.70 for a bottle? Where does £4.22 come from? Or am I missing something fundamental?

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    And the good news.....

    The pubs are open in twenty minutes.
    Its my round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    let people make there own choices on alcohol and stop helping them so much when they screw it up. if your too dam stupid to control your drinking why should to rest of us sensible people pay more to enjoy ourselves a bit?

    to those saying tackle the root causes; any suggestions how or even what the causes are?

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    I agree with most of the previous comments. The only real solution would be a combination of education and occupation, the latter being either work or constructive passtimes. Also the benefits system perhaps needs to be rethought and food vouchers might be more appropriate. I get fed up of seeing people who are on benefits buying alcohol and cigarettes and in preference to food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 721.

    isn't it a pity that the band wagon that our politicians always jump on doesn't run them over now and then. This wagon is called 'lets gain more revenue by punishing the many through the actions of the few.'

  • rate this

    Comment number 720.

    Why do we drink so much anyway?
    1) Little or no faith in our politicians
    2) Broken promises for "a better future"
    3) Endless crass governmental decisions (HS2 anyone)
    4) Being constantly fleeced by companies we HAVE to deal with (energy for example)
    5) The feeling that everyone is out to "screw" you (on-line, telesales, cold calling)
    6) No sign anything will change

    On the positive side, um, err

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    685. Rob04
    I think you're missing the point. People with drinking problems tend to have underlying problems. Booze is the effect not the cause.

    Also, do you think pricing people out will stop them drinking? or will they look elsewhere or commit crime to raise the cash.

    Trying to force people to do something does not work, will not work and only has negative consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    Alcohol is one of the easiest drugs in the country to make.So to get around this all you have to do is brew your our then freeze the wine and remove the water. You can easily get a drink at around 30% abv. Plus it costs almost nothing. to brew wine in either grow the friut or buy it reduced in the supermarket cost around 15p a glass, 25Lt of mead around £10

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    If people want to drink a minimum price will not be a deterance

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    We've already seen an increase in fake spirits hitting our shops that contain such things as antifreeze. Pushing prices up on the cheaper end of booze will just add to the criminals making this poison and supplying it to off licenses.


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