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 1795.

    I predict an increase in the illegal production of inferior 'vodka' from people's garages. You know the stuff...makes you go blind, but at least it's cheap!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1794.

    I'm thouroughly over-joyed of this decision by the ministers. They're certainly earning their bloated wages here.
    Im glad they're using that old tried-and-tested method of 'raising the price' to 'Tackle' the 'Drink' problem?
    It's most definitley proven to have helped with all other area's of our most healthy economy, spurring growth and enhancing prosperity.
    God bless the government.....OR NOT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1793.

    A lot of people on here comment about 'irresponsible binge drinkers'. Binge drinking is classed as more than 3-4 units for men and 2-3 for women. 2 bottles of 500ml ale in a night would qualify you as a binge drinker. Half a bottle of wine (two large glasses) would too.

    Drinking is more ubiquitous among certain groups of society than people like to admit. I'm guilty of wine everyday with dinner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1792.


    Go to your local shop and compare the price of a 330ml so-called alco-pop with the price of a 2 litre bottle of gut-rot cider.
    Then come back and tell me if you still think alcopops are the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1791.

    1756. SketchyBFC
    Has anyone considered that this may increase crime...
    If such is the case, it will be the fault of the one committing the crime, nobody else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1790.

    Surely the best place to start is to Go back to controlled alcohol licensing Noon- 10:45(last orders)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1789.

    Whilst criticising Labour for the nanny state all this govt has done is continue the trend.

    If you treat people like children then don't be surprised if behaviour deterioates. In so many areas whether it be drink, personal finance or crime what is required is a sense of personal responsibility and accountability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1788.

    They put the tax up which put alot pubs out of business and now they think because of alot of people drink before hitting the pubs to save money but still have the social integration in the local pubs they can increase the tax there as well.
    I must say the way the government is acting it make me think they are creeping close to when the USA had prohibition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1787.

    The problem for the last 25 years has been the SUPERMARKETS undermining the traditional outlets.

    Where is your local off licence? Gone

    Has your pub closed down recently?

    Root cause is the SUPERMARKETS destroying the traditional drinks market and drinking traditions as well.

    Profit before morals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1786.

    I am natural conservative, but I am starting to hate this shower.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1785.

    Another attack by the Government on hard working families' stretched budgets. Of course it won't have any affect on David Cameron's friends as the price of champagne will not be affected by this ludicrous proposal. The sooner we get rid of this shower the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1784.

    I'm not sure how this proposed scheme is going to work practically. Who's going to check the prices in the shops? Supermarkets could work around the scheme - buy an expensive can of strong lager and get a free packet of crisps/packet of peanuts/etc, etc.It sounds totally against free trade. If it is adopted it's another incentive to skip across the channel to stock up with cheap alcohol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1783.

    Why not have a varied tax rate?

    If the alcohol is being consumed onsite and feeding money into the local economy then its charged at lower rate of tax eg cheaper to drink in your local pub to save our dying pub trade.

    And a second rate of tax on where you are not consuming on site for example a supermarket where they have no control over your safety and that of others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1782.

    Pointless. Cost won't deter binge drinkers! Run campaigns to make people more aware of the long term effects of binge drinking on health - Yes. But don't tar responsible drinkers with the same brush as binge drinkers! Honestly,just feels more like the government wants to milk more from the system. Is it coincidence this comes right before Christmas?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1781.

    Surely if someone is spending only £4.22 on a bottle of wine, they're going to get ill. I can't find any decent vintage for under £10, so don't think it should have a big impact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1780.

    This lazy, ill-conceived measure simply masks the underlying problem - the chronic inadequacy of the UK's criminal justice system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1779.

    Health experts are claiming that there is a particular problem with well to do over 50s drinking too much at home - these people will be impacted least by the proposed changes. The goverment needs to stop pandering to the BMA or stop using health as an excuse .This is a very thinly disguised policy to levy additional tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1778.

    I wish some of these 'concern' and 'action' groups would get it though their heads: it's MY body, not yours or the Govt's. If I want to drink, that's MY business. If I prefer a burger to a salad and a movie to the gym, that's for ME to decide. I don't pay my taxes to be bullied, shamed and coerced but for education, policing, transport etc, all of which should take priority over health fascism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1777.

    Anyone else getting fed up with being told what to do via massive price increases? I don't drink that much, but on the odd occasion I get drunk, the worst I inflict on people is my dancing! I don't smoke anymore, but that too was a personal choice! I'm not stupid, I know what the effect of these things are, but the choice should be mine! What's next? An extreme sports tax? Crossing the road tax?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1776.

    @deetee. The poorest don't drink designer beers and fine wines. So they will be hit by far the hardest. But hey, it's a Tory government! So who cares about the poor, eh? An awful tax, hitting everyone, simply to boost treasury coffers.


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