Minimum alcohol price planned for England and Wales


Home Secretary Theresa May: "People who like going to their local pub have nothing to fear"

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The government is proposing a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol in England and Wales in an effort to "turn the tide" against binge drinking.

It believes this could transform the behaviour of those who cause the most problems for hospitals and police.

A new alcohol strategy also aims to help local areas tackle problems and work with the drinks industry to encourage responsible drinking.

Some in the industry suggest minimum pricing would face a court challenge.

The industry said a minimum price was misguided and would hit consumers hard.

Similar proposals are already being considered by the Scottish Parliament.

Under the minimum price proposal, such as at the suggested 40p level, it would act as a floor and retailers would not be allowed to offer alcohol cheaper than that.

Sobriety schemes

While most prices would be unaffected, it could significantly alter the price of heavily-discounted ciders, super-strength lager and cheap spirits.

Minimum alcohol pricing graphic

The impact could include:

  • A £2.99 bottle of red wine, containing 9.4 units of alcohol, would be priced up to £3.76
  • Cheap, strong lager at 75p a can, with three units per can, would become at least £1.20
  • Bulk-bought strong cider, costing 87p a can and containing four units, would almost double to at least £1.60
  • Cheap supermarket whisky at £16.10, with 40 units of alcohol, would probably be unchanged in price

A proposed ban on multi-buy offers would affect top-end promotions, such as a percentage discount on a half-case of wine, as well as the likes of buy-one-get-one-free budget deals.

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David Cameron is ignoring the conventional political advice about how to cheer up voters”

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The alcohol strategy also seeks to give local agencies an "extensive range of tools and powers" to tackle problem drinkers and premises, such as by restricting opening hours and density of licensed premises.

It also plans to "end the notion that drinking is an unqualified right by piloting sobriety schemes for those people whose offending is linked to excessive alcohol consumption", says the strategy document.

Plans are outlined to work with the drinks industry on "changing the drinking culture, from one of excess to one of responsibility; and from one where alcohol is linked to bad behaviour to one where it is linked to positive 'socialising'".

'Mayhem and fear'

Prime Minister David Cameron said the government wanted to turn around a drinking culture that last year had contributed to one million alcohol-related violent crimes and 1.2 million hospital admissions.


It is often said that alcohol is getting cheaper. That is not strictly true.

Over the last 25 years the price of booze has been rising at a faster rate than other goods and services.

The problem is that disposable income has gone up more, meaning we have more money to spend on luxury items and many of us are choosing to use that on alcohol.

Consumption has doubled since the 1950s and there are now 10 million adults drinking more than they should.

The effect can be seen across society. Alcohol-related hospital admissions, crime and disorder and absence from work are all higher than they were a decade ago.

The hope is that setting a minimum price might alter that.

Unlike banning below-cost selling, which is being introduced in England and Wales in April to stop drinks being sold at less than the tax paid on them, it affects the majority of drinks sold outside pubs.

But does this stop people consuming too much? The evidence suggests it might. Modelling by Sheffield University in 2008 found increasing price reduces consumption most among hazardous and harmful drinkers.

Mr Cameron said: "Binge drinking isn't some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country. The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear in our communities."

He added: "We're consulting on the actual price, but if it is 40p that could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol related deaths per year by the end of the decade."

Home Secretary Theresa May said that just under the cheapest fifth of all alcohol sold would be affected by introducing a 40p minimum.

"Too many people think it's a great night out to get really drunk and have a fight in our streets," she told BBC Breakfast.

"What we need to do is to set a price that is actually going to ensure that we don't damage responsible drinkers. People who like a drink or two, who like going down their local pub, have nothing to fear from this policy."

Ministers say the minimum pricing could help pubs because it would stop supermarkets offering cheaper alternatives.

The strategy also includes a plan for a late-night levy to make clubs and pubs help pay for policing.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Labour Party supported the idea of a minimum unit price, subject to debate about where it should be set to ensure it worked.

"The government needs to make sure it does not just create a cash windfall for the supermarkets, instead of lowering prices of other goods or supporting better prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse to cut crime further and save lives," she said.

Competition law

Just three months ago, the government said it thought minimum pricing would be incompatible with European competition law.

Units of alcohol

  • Bottle (75cl) of wine - 10 units
  • Small (125ml) glass of wine - 1.5 units
  • Standard (175ml) glass of wine - 2.1 units
  • Large (250ml) glass of wine - 3 units
  • Pint of weaker (3.6%) beer - 2 units
  • Pint of stronger (5.2%) beer - 3 units
  • Bottle (330ml) of beer - 1.7 units
  • Can (440ml) of beer - 2 units
  • Alcopop bottle (275ml) - 1.5 units
  • Small (25ml) shot of spirits - 1 unit
  • Large (35ml) shot of spirits - 1.4 units

Source: NHS

Gavin Partington, interim chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said he thought a minimum price move would be "highly likely" to face a legal challenge from a drinks company.

But he expressed concern the proposal could prove to be a "Trojan horse for tax", and if minimum pricing failed to make it through the courts then the government might simply increase duty on alcohol.

"I think one has to be quite sceptical," he said. "Only a few months ago you have got two ministers saying they understand it to be probably illegal, and suddenly now they are advocating it - I don't think the legal position has changed any."

Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Irresponsible drinking has cultural causes and retailers have been hugely engaged in information and education to change attitudes to drinking.

"It's a myth to suggest that supermarkets are the problem or that a pub is somehow a safer drinking environment. Effectively, a minimum price is a tax on responsible drinkers."

However, the proposal has received a cautious welcome from some in the drinks industry, such as C&C Group, which makes Magners cider and Tennent's lager.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, of the Royal College of Physicians and the Alcohol Health Alliance, welcomed the proposals.

Eric Appleby, Alcohol Concern: "We welcome this"

"Health care workers who struggle every day to cope with the impact of our nation's unhealthy drinking will welcome tough new policies in areas such as price and licensing that are based on evidence and should bring about real benefits," he said.

Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, the lead on alcohol for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "Week in, week out, in town centres across the country, the police have to deal with the consequences of cheap alcohol and irresponsible drinking.

"The growing trend for 'pre-loading' means that young people are often drunk before they even enter a bar.

"By the time they hit the streets at closing they are more likely to get involved in crime and disorder or injure themselves or others."

What is a unit of alcohol?


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  • rate this

    Comment number 822.

    The price if fags keeps going up and up and yet the number of people I see with one hanging out doesn't seem to decrease. With booze the problem is not totally price but availability, its too easy to buy cheap booze and adding on a few more pence won't make any difference. Bring back shorter opening hours, take away supermarket licenses, booze only from pubs or off-licenses. Back to the future!

  • rate this

    Comment number 821.

    I wish everyone would read the evidence which informs minimum pricing. In summary: The more one earns, the more drink is consumed - it is NOT a poor-persons problem! If you drink above 14U/21U per week, you're drinking to excess & by inescapable definition you're an alcoholic. If you drink within your limits (as above) you're your costs are perfectly affordable and your health is maintained.

  • rate this

    Comment number 820.

    What a pathetic lot you can't enjoy your self with a fix of booze or drugs get a life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    I would imagine after the public school budget presented by Osborne, many responsible drinkers in Britain felt like going out for a binge drink. But they, like the targetted pensioners couldn't afford it. This government is enough to drive anyone to drink, if they can still afford it. But even that might become a thing of the past except for those who benefited from the budget.

  • rate this

    Comment number 818.

    What's the real problem we're trying to solve here? Drunken louts ruining our city centres/taking a toll on the health service. So by all means use pricing as a weapon but it has to be targeted. May I suggest therefore that drunken & disorderly in public attracts a huge fine, say £500. Hospital admission incurs a further £500 fine.

    There's your targeted pricing solution. End of problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 817.

    Looks like my home brewing business is about to get a whole lot busier. Hurrah!

  • rate this

    Comment number 816.

    I'd love to be charged a mere 40p/unit for my drinks. You see that "supermarket whisky at £16.10 with 40 units of alcohol, would probably be unchanged in price". I like that 'probably'. Some chance. No, the government is just handing suppliers a nice price rise. The argument will be that with sales falling off at the lower end they need to recoup losses

  • rate this

    Comment number 815.

    802. Mustafa Yorumcu
    It is cool being drunk in UK. We are drunk; whatever the price, whichever country we visit, whatever gender we belong to.

    Rubbish. We don't all live by your exacting standards Mustafa!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 814.

    "The problem is that disposable income has gone up more, meaning we have more money to spend on luxury items and many of us are choosing to use that on alcohol."

    And here was me thinking that poverty was rife throughout the UK. Just goes to show you should believe everything you read in the BBC comments section....

  • rate this

    Comment number 813.

    Way too many shops now reliant on alcohol sales to stay open often of the bootleg variety. Staff and Owners unworried about who buys the drink. Local licensing authorities unwilling to move against the shop owners for fear of legal charges by the owners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 812.

    Once again I point to continential Europe, where beer and wine are already cheaper than in the UK, and where these problems aren't as severe. You can't change culture through price controls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 811.

    Oh, calm down all you panicking middle class drinkers! You already pay this with the 'nice wines' you drink so you won't be affected. And really, you ARE binge drinking if you're putting half a bottle of wine away a night. You're probably going to cost me more in the long run than the winos on the bench in the park...

  • rate this

    Comment number 810.

    It seems to have become a culturally accepted right in this country to continued to get served alcohol in whatever state you are. I am from NZ and It is amusing the number of times I hear people in ths country moan about how strict bar-staff and bouncers etc are in NZ and Australia about letting people into bars/clubs and not serving people who are too drunk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 809.

    Typical Govt. reaction, punish (stealth tax) the majority because of an irresponsible minority and legislate against the object rather than the person's actions. When people "preload" they don't normally buy the cheapest nastiest booze on the supermarket shelf, they buy the drink they really like at less than 1/2 price and save the cheap nasty drinks for the pub. Cap soft drink prices in pubs

  • rate this

    Comment number 808.

    You loved them in "Oh my God! Where did the economy go!",
    you were thrilled by "tax the lazy pensioners!"
    Now....for your political entertainment, the comedy duo known as the Tories and their Lib Dem puppies in "Punish the drinker and smoker for thing we allow them to do!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 807.

    Nanny state

    This is something I would expect Labour to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 806.

    As a student I always buy the cheapest options in supermarkets (apart from a supermarket's own brands) and I can't think of any drinks which would be affected by a minimum price of 40p a unit. I definitely don't want a higher minimum price, but a minimum of 40p a unit is going to achieve nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 805.

    Students buy cheap drink before they go out on the town because of the extortianate prices some clubs and pubs charge. How about putting a cap on the maximum charge per unit as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 804.

    dont blame the supermarkets, prices, government, pubs, police... BLAME THE FOOLS THAT COMMIT CRIME WHEN DRUNK!

    do people really think these drunken people will suddenly become perfect citizens if alcohol is more expensive? no!

  • rate this

    Comment number 803.

    I was on a rugby tour of Scotland last year and one of the team was in a pub and downed 3 pints of IPA in rapid succession. He was then refused a 4rd as the publican said he was binge drinking. We all had a good laugh about this my team mate is a 17stone prop but respect to the publican if this is his approach.


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