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 942.

    Clamp down on alcohol due to bad attitudes? hould also ban soap operas as these skew people's vision of reality & stunt intellect.

    Clamp down on coffee and tea because caffeine is a stimulant - if you can't live without it, you clearly have a problem. Chocolate stimulates endorphines, chocaholic? Ban/price this too.

    These sound silly, but it's the implication of the arguments in use here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 941.

    Those that want to get hammered will pay the extra. Those that drink more responsibly, might give up the odd bottle or two. I might be wrong here, but taxing you for your health sake,doesn't seem to work. There must be something very wrong with "The big society" if so many people want to get hammered

  • rate this

    Comment number 940.

    The trouble is a cultural one. Look at America, can't drink until 21, massive laws surrounding drink, but they still have huge problems with it. Then look at the continent, France, Spain, Germany, you can buy a beer in McD's in Germany! They do not have the same levels of problems we do. They are brought up to respect alcohol. Doesn't help the police give warnings to people instead of charging em

  • rate this

    Comment number 939.

    I was walking through Wantage last Saturday night, which used to be a bustling market town and a good night out. Now the pubs that have not actually been closed yet are empty, and it is a situation that is going to get worse. More moonscapes and empty buildings in the towns and pubs turned into housing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 938.

    Historically governments that messed about with the prices of beer and the opening times of pubs were kicked out of office. Our prsent mish mash of a wretched coalition should take note. Tax on beer and most everything else is far, far too high.

  • rate this

    Comment number 937.

    So what we really need is a car that runs on Asda smart price lager?

    Stock up on wine before the increases come in?

    So many pointless opinions on this board!

  • rate this

    Comment number 936.

    904 merf


  • rate this

    Comment number 935.

    I hear home brewing figures are up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 934.

    Yeah because taxing cigarettes really stopped people smoking hasn't it? The fact of the matter is people will still buy booze, no matter what the price. The problem will then arise when they stop buying food to pay for the alcohol. Educate people on RESPONSIBLE drinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 933.

    If the problem is pre-loading as the Chief Constable suggests, then this is a job for neighbourhood watch. Nab those who are OTT, before they get to the bar with the help of the general public, including taxi drivers. Call it community policing in action, where the emphasise is on prevention and zero tolerance towards dunkeness. That might reduce the crime and pressure on the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 932.

    It looks like this is only going to affect the people who buy really cheap alcohol. In my student experience, we only buy the cheap stuff to get absolutely hammered on nights out... and that's BEFORE we even went to a club. So in a way, I think they are coming at it from the right angle if that is that kind of behaviour they want to see reduced (and it would probably be a good thing if it did).

  • rate this

    Comment number 931.

    I commute 50 miles a day to get to work so if diesel rose to £20 a gallon i would still have to pay it and the governmet know this, why do you think the fuel prices keep rising. If there is a binge drinking culture to which i doubt, it will be through lack of information. Why should i be penialised for buying cheaper alcohol, Yet again the tax payer gets beaten with a big stick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 930.

    Another great day for pensioners! My wife and I do like a glass (one small glass!) of wine with our evening meal. Recently the cost of modest wines has shot up even faster than that of other goods - I wonder where the BBC got its idea of a bottle of red wine at £2.99? And please don't tell me that the only drinkable wines already cost more than £6 - that's fine if you're wealthy

  • rate this

    Comment number 929.

    I think alcohol should be regarded and introduced to the new generations as part of ordinary life other than something to escape from it. In this way, it would lose much of its charm and people may start drinking less altoghether, and maybe care less about its price. At least, this is what happens in southern Europe, where restrictions are lower but people drink less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 928.

    I wish the government would get their big nose out of things they don't understand and run the country properly.
    a) Minimum pricing will just mean occasional drinkers like me pay more - we pay through the nose now. It will NOT stop addicts - look at the price of heroin, cocaine, fags - it doesn't stop addicts!
    b) If they want something to do then tax companies/rich and buy BRITISH so we have jobs

  • rate this

    Comment number 927.

    Interesting that the BBC coverage always looks at the UK in isolation, based on the assumption that a/ there is a huge problem and b/ we're the only ones that have got it.
    Just accept it, people like to drink. Let the police etc deal with the idiots who overdo it, and leave the rest of us in peace.
    As the muslim world shows, alcohol-free societies are not better places.

  • rate this

    Comment number 926.

    So misguided. This will hurt poorer drinkers and alcoholics the most, I'm very skeptical of any evidence that says otherwise; irresponsible drinking occurs because people avoid the consequences of such behaviour, free healthcare is provided irrespective. Secondly, introducing a price floor has the very real potential of incentivising black market activities, with all their ugly characteristics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 925.

    Surely the trouble with binge drinking is the person, not the alcohol. If those who commit crimes/reach a state of drunkenness which incapacitates them to such an extent they require medical treatment then why not hold them entirely responsible (it seems you receive a lesser punishment for a crime committed when drunk) and bill them for any medical expenses? Fairer than punishing everybody.

  • rate this

    Comment number 924.

    The comments on this article say it all. The UK's love affair with alcohol continues.

    To those who cite other countries as having a better attitude to alcohol: Don't you see the irony in your use of this to justify your own obsession with alcohol?

    If people drank as moderately as the righteously indignant here claim, the price rise wouldn't make a difference - a few quid on the monthly tipple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 923.

    Meh. This will just lead to more bathtub vodka being brewed and more smuggling, which will then have to be stopped at even more expense. We know this because it happened with ciggies. Unenforcable and unsustainable, unfortunately.


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