The new government alcohol strategy unveiled today includes minimum pricing per unit of alcohol.
With Prime Minister David Cameron vowing to tackle the “scourge” of binge drinking in the UK, in this new strategy he makes “no excuses for clamping down on it.”
Aside from minimum pricing, the new “Government Alcohol Strategy: Choice, Challenge and Responsibility” also includes the banning of multi-buy discount deals; zero tolerance of drunken behaviour in A&E departments; improved powers to stop serving drunks and a late night levy to get pubs and clubs helping to pay for policing.
Cameron said in a statement that he knew the strategy would not be “universally popular” but stressed that the strategy was about attacking harmful drinking and tackling the resulting crime.
He maintained that the new bills would not penalise responsible drinkers or add further strain to the on-trade, particularly pubs.
He 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.
“My message is simple. We can’t go on like this. We have to tackle the scourge of violence caused by binge drinking. And we have to do it now.
“So we’re going to attack it from every angle. More powers for pubs to stop serving alcohol to people who are already drunk. More powers for hospitals not just to tackle the drunks turning up in A&E – but also the problem clubs that send them there night after night. And a real effort to get to grips with the root cause of the problem. And that means coming down hard on cheap alcohol.
- The cost to drinkers
“When beer is cheaper than water, it’s just too easy for people to get drunk on cheap alcohol at home before they even set foot in the pub.
“So we are going to introduce a new minimum unit price – so for the first time it will be illegal for shops to sell alcohol for less than this set price per unit. We’re consulting on the actual price, but if it is 40p that could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 9,000 fewer alcohol related deaths over the next decade.
“This isn’t about stopping responsible drinking, adding burdens on business or some new kind of stealth tax – it’s about fast immediate action where universal change is needed.
“And let’s be clear. This will not hurt pubs. A pint is two units. If the minimum price is 40p a unit, it won’t affect the price of a pint. In fact, pubs may benefit by making the cheap alternatives in supermarkets more expensive.
“Of course, I know this won’t be universally popular. But the responsibility of being in government isn’t always about doing the popular thing. It’s about doing the right thing.
“Binge drinking is a serious problem. And I make no excuses for clamping down on it.”
Responding to the government’s Alcohol Strategy, Portman Group chief executive Henry Ashworth said: “For this strategy to be successful, it must not penalise the vast majority who drink responsibly or unfairly burden businesses that are helping government tackle alcohol misuse through the responsibility deal partnership – it is vital that these proposals do not undermine this partnership and the good progress that is being made.”
The government report that followed the prime minister’s statement was sure to include what it termed “myth busters” about the new proposals, many of them already referenced by Cameron in his statement.
One myth that was near the top of the list was that minimum pricing is just another duty increase.
However, the release stated clearly that this was not so by explaining: “A duty increase hits all alcohol for everyone; a minimum unit price hits cheap, harmful alcohol.
- Minimum Pricing
“To get the same positive effect on consumption, health and crime as a 40p MUP, we would have had to raise duty by RPI+9%.”
The government also estimates that minimum pricing will lead to 170 fewer alcohol-related deaths in the first year, rising to 900 fewer over 10 years.
The report continued: “There will be 50,600 fewer crimes a year; including 12,900 violent crimes. More than £80m will be saved in health and crime costs in the first year, rising to over £140m in the tenth year.”
The problems surrounding the legality of minimum pricing have been followed by the drinks business through the various discussions in Scotland and England since the end of last year.
Also worthy of consideration is the media hype surrounding the scale of binge drinking as consumption falls, issues previously raised by the Portman Group and db.
How they will be imposed and what the trade’s reaction to this announcement will be remains to be seen.
The full government report can be read here. More on this story as it unfolds.