UK drinking ‘is out of control’, say public
Home Office research published as ministers detail plans for ban on cut-price alcohol sales
Two-thirds of the public believe the amount of alcohol people drink in Britain is out of control, according to Home Office research published as ministers detailed plans for a ban on cut-price booze.
The research also showed that 93% of heavier drinkers under the age of 35 say they have witnessed alcohol-related crime and disorder in the past 12 months.
But while international evidence shows that policies to increase alcohol prices may be effective in cutting crime and improving health, there is little evidence to show which alcohol pricing policies work.
Home Office ministers insisted today that their plan to ban sales at below duty plus VAT would have an impact. The decision, likely to be introduced in November, will ban sales of beer and lager at below 38p a can. It will also introduce a minimum price for wine of £2.03 a bottle, and a price of £10.71 for spirits.
However, health campaigners and the beer and pub industries warned that the minimum price was being set too low to have any impact. They claimed it would still mean beer and lager being available at “pocket money” prices in supermarkets, and argued that a 50p per unit minimum could save more than 3,000 lives a year.
The Home Office minister, James Brokenshire, said the government was targeting the “deep discounting” of alcohol and warned that minimum unit pricing would “effectively penalise everybody, rather than being focused on either those products or people who may be consuming alcohol in a way that is harmful to society”.
Gavin Partington, of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, also backed the formula, describing it as a “pragmatic solution” that addressed concerns about cheap alcohol without affecting moderate drinkers.
He accepted that the volume of sales of alcohol sold below the level of duty and VAT was fairly minimal, but said a minimum unit pricing policy went way beyond what the ordinary public want to pay. “Those who have the most problem with alcohol are the least likely to be deterred by price increases,” he said.
The Scottish parliament last year rejected plans for a minimum price of 45p per unit in the face of claims that it would penalise responsible drinkers and could fall foul of European competition law.
SABMiller, the world’s second largest brewer, said it welcomed the government’s attempt to address problem drinking, but argued that evidence supporting the pricing policy was weak. “To tackle the minority of people who drink to excess, we must make irresponsible drinking socially unacceptable,” it said. “This can be done through education, peer or social pressure, parental example and the relentless application of existing laws.”
Professor Ian Gilmore of the Royal College of Physicians, said the government’s proposal was an extremely small step in the right direction, adding: “It will have no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of cheap drinks sold in supermarkets.”
He said the proposals would also have no impact on the health of the nation and all he could hope was that minimum pricing might be “eased up in the right direction”.
Don Shenker of Alcohol Concern went further: “This measure will not go any way towards resolving this country’s binge drinking problem. Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law. The government needs to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol. That is the only evidence-based approach that will end cheap discounts once and for all,” he said.
Petra Meier, professor of public health at Sheffield University, which carried out research for the Home Office on the issue, said the move would lead to only 21 lives being saved a year and 2,400 fewer hospital visits. She said that a 50p per unit of alcohol minimum price would by comparison save 3,000 deaths a year and lead to 39,000 fewer hospital visits.
The Home Office research published today shows that while 65% of the public believe alcohol consumption is out of control, they are evenly split on whether the price of alcohol should increase.