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 1815.

    This problem is not only related to a certain generation it relates to everyone!! Someone who is addicted to alcohol isn't going to just stop drinking because the price goes up instead they will turn to criminal methods to get the money. Rising the costs without tackling the issues is leading to more burglaries and thefts, alcoholics will be the new druggies looking for their next fix

  • rate this

    Comment number 1814.

    The problem is not the price of alcohol, more the culture surrounding its consumption. The UK culture is not to go out and have a good time, and have a few drinks during the evening. Instead it is focused on consuming alcohol, and then having a good time. Many countries have cheap alcohol without the negative behaviour experienced in the UK. Price isn't the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1813.

    Just a feeble excuse to generate taxes for the government to waste. The price of alcohol is irrelevant, I've crossed the Channel several times to holiday in France, the price of alcohol in supermarkets in France is a fraction of what you pay in this country, do they have a binge drinking problem? No.
    Once again it's the busy bodies and do gooders trying to dictate how we live our lives

  • rate this

    Comment number 1812.

    Clearly from the comments, half the nation drinks too much. It is a good measure, its as important as tax on smoking. Having just been to university, I know how much students spend on booze, the cheaper it is the more they buy so it needs to rise in price. I rather have the NHS spending money on ill people than an idiot who drank too much!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1811.

    If the duty on alcohol in pubs was lower people would probably not pre-load at home so much. We certianly never used too. Nowadays pre-loading is the only affordable way to have a drink. It's a vicious circle that this minimum cost will make worse. It's just a tax on those who like a drink. Stupid idea.The stats could equally be used to say this will put x amount of breweries etc. out of business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1810.

    This will do little but potentially raise the tax revenue or lead to further smuggling of cheap booze.
    The majority of problems with booze are caused by people who have problems with self control in their social consumption not addicts or down and outs ie you have to be wrecked to have "a good time" and these people will simply transfer their sending from other areas.

    Punishing all is no answer

  • rate this

    Comment number 1809.

    Supermarket poduct placement concerns me with this one. If an okay bottle of wine is £4 - 5 before, and then after the change the cheapest rubbish will be £4, supermarkets will start to charge £6 - 7 for the mid-range stuff.

    So, if you think it won't affect you because you don't drink cheap, you're wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1808.

    Hee hee hee.

    But joking aside that's just the 'let them eat cake' attitude so typical of this government. Alas Mr Cameron and chums need the votes of the working class Tories they so despise.

    This one little law will decimate their support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1807.

    Just remind me why the Tories and Labour Party in Scotland were opposing the Scottish Government's proposals for minimum pricing on alcohol?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1806.

    Fine the drunks. Don't increase ordinary householders weekly grocery bill. If you want more money, tax the rich!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1805.

    This will not stop or reduce problematic drinking. We need to put more money in to creating serves to help people, not cut back on them.

    This might work only if all the taxes raised from alcohol are put in to services to help the needy, with alcohol related problems. We should support, not discriminate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1804.

    This kind of proposal ought to wait until after the next General Election.
    The public have not been consulted on whether they want this (just like the smoking ban). It needs to be included as a manifesto commitment by the party that proposes it, and let the public decide come polling day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1803.

    A quick way to stop binge drinking of cheap alcohol? Take the off-licences off the supermarkets and revert to the old-fashioned off-licence stores.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1802.

    Minimum alcohol pricing is supposed to be based on concerns for peoples health, not just to sort our street violence out, it is time to look at what we’re drinking, as all the additives i.e. E’ numbers caffeine and the like mixed with alcohol at the levels they are cannot be doing us any good.

    Its basic medical knowledge you do not mix a downer and an upper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1801.

    Of course, the benefit is that people will start learning how to brew their own.

    Which will start an unregulated black market.

    I understand meths has alcohol in it, and is very cheap.

    Perhaps a cynical brewer might cut their booze with meths.

    One could call it Darwinism, perhaps. But we'll have to pay for it through the NHS.

    Everyone's cool with that, right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1800.

    More regulation for honest shopkeepers ... whilst white vans full of black market imports will continue roll over the Channel and alon the motoraways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1799.

    So, by being surtaxed on my Sunday bottle of wine, I'll help saving the lives of brainless drunken yobs?
    Personally, I would let them drown in their own vomit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1798.

    First of all, not everyone is addicted to alcohol (obviously). So let's not make this a debate around whether price rises solve addiction. If you do not believe that the economics of a commodity can affect consumer patterns (not saying it is the only influence), then perhaps you need to stop drinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1797.


    The UK stopped being a decent place to live shortly after this rag tag government took office.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1796.

    This is a tad shortsighted of the tories. Pricing it high may, and i say may in the same context as 'we may elect a worthwhile government', reduce alchohol sales in the short term, many problems will occur in the long time- increased theft of money in notorious areas, seasoned alcholics will rather lose food than alcohol but even worse, we may get a repeat of the london riots. May.


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