The home secretary Theresa May has today proposed a higher-than-expected minimum price of 45p a unit for the sale of alcohol in England and Wales.
The government has launched a 10-week consultation “on a range of measures to cut crime, save lives and reduce alcohol consumption.”
The proposals are part of the government’s plans for a “clampdown on binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour”.
It was expected that the government would back a 40p per unit minimum price. A 50p per unit minimum price has already been proposed by the Scottish Parliament, which is now subjected to a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association and the European Spirits Organisation.
Earlier this year db reported on who will profit from the 50p per unit pricing in Scotland.
In today’s announcement about the 10-week consultation the Home Office has confirmed five key areas of action:
• a ban on multi-buy promotions
• a review of the mandatory licensing conditions
• a minimum unit price of 45p
• a new health-related objective for alcohol licensing
• cutting red tape for responsible businesses
Policing Minister Damian Green said: “These measures are not about stopping responsible drinking but designed to tackle the minority who cause alcohol-related crime and disorder in our local communities.
But Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association said the government could find itself in a similar position to the Scottish government – facing a legal challenge to minimum pricing.
Beale said: “It is hard to understand why the Government is pushing ahead with the consultation now, when there is a wall of opposition in Europe, a legal challenge in Scotland, a lack of any real evidence to support minimum unit pricing, opposition from consumers and concerns raised from within Cabinet itself.
“Minimum unit pricing and the proposed restrictions to promotions are wholly untargeted and will unfairly punish millions of consumers and businesses in the UK, while doing nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse or associated crime and disorder.
“There is no evidence that minimum unit pricing will tackle alcohol misuse – in fact the international evidence suggests that problem drinkers are the least likely to be deterred by price rises.
“However, we do welcome the Government’s decision to consult on its Alcohol Strategy over a 10-week period.
“Alcohol misuse is a serious and complex problem for a small number of people in this country. We recognise this and are committed to tackling alcohol misuse – but there is no silver bullet. A wide range of policies are required to address problem drinking, including improving education, better enforcement and building on what already works.”
The British Retail Consortium’s food director Andrew Opie agreed that the government’s proposals may unfairly target responsible drinkers and do little to deter alcohol misuse.
He 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.
“Harmful drinking has cultural causes and retailers are tackling those with collaborative working on clear labelling and targeted awareness campaigns that help customers drink responsibly. Where’s the evidence that imposing a blanket measure that puts up prices for all customers will make a difference?
“Most people already drink less than recommended limits. There is no reason why they should be denied access to discounts.”
But Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on alcohol and chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, backed the government’s plans, although he would like to see a higher minimum price.
He said: “The evidence shows us that heavy drinkers and young drinkers are more affected by higher alcohol prices than moderate drinkers.
“According to the University of Sheffield, a minimum unit price of 50p would reduce total alcohol consumption by 6.7%, saving around 20,000 hospital admissions in the first year. 40p would not be anywhere near as effective.”
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Alcohol abuse costs the NHS £3bn every year and nursing staff witness first hand the social costs of binge drinking every day. Alcohol abuse causes long-term health conditions, increases crime, destroys families and puts A&E staff at risk from violence, all of which are totally unacceptable. As long as alcohol is available at a heavily discounted price, these will continue.”