New minimum alcohol price to be introduced to combat binge drinking
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Friday 23 March 2012
A minimum price for alcohol of 40p a unit will be announced by the Government today in an attempt to combat Britain's binge drinking culture.
A new alcohol strategy will also ban multi-buy discounts such as three bottles of wine for £10; impose a levy on pubs and clubs to pay towards policing costs; give bar staff greater powers to refuse to serve drunks and bring in “zero tolerance” of drunken behaviour in hospital accident and emergency departments.
David Cameron has forced through a legal minimum price against opposition from the drinks industry and several ministers including Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary. The proposed 40p a unit minimum would have the biggest impact on strong cheap ciders and cheap vodkas, gin and whisky. A Sainsbury's basic cider two litre bottle (with a 4.2 per cent alcohol strength) would rise from £1.89 to £3.36 and a Tesco value vodka 700ml from £8.72 to £10.52.
The Government estimates the proposal would cost the average drinker between £21 and £23 a year; a moderate drinker staying within the recommended limit (21 units a week for men and 14 for women) between £5 and £6 a year and a harmful drinker (more than 50 units a week for men and 35 for women) between £105 and £135 a year.
At the same time, the alcohol industry has agreed to “shed” a billion units of alcohol by ensuring greater choice of lower strength products under its “responsibility deal” with the Government. The industry believes there is a growing market for lower strength wines and lower and non-alcoholic beer.
Irresponsible drinking is believed to cost the UK £21bn a year and is blamed for almost one million alcohol-related violent crimes.
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. 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.”
The Prime Minister admitted his move would be controversial but insisted that tough action is needed. He added: “That means coming down hard on cheap alcohol. 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.”
While the Government would consult on the actual minimum unit price, he said a 40p floor could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol related deaths a year by the end of the next decade. More than £80m in health and crime costs would be saved in the first year, rising to £140m after 10 years.
Mr Cameron insisted: “This isn’t about stopping responsible drinking, adding burdens on business or some new kind of stealth tax... 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.”
Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ spokesman on alcohol, welcomed the new approach. He said: “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.“
But Gavin Partington, interim chief executive of WSTA, which represent the wine and spirit industry, warned: “Minimum unit pricing will punish the majority of responsible consumers with higher prices, hitting the poor hardest. There is no evidence to prove it will tackle alcohol misuse – in fact the international evidence suggests that problem drinkers are least likely to be deterred by price rises.”
Price Control: The impact
A minimum price of 40p per unit would impact most on strong cheap ciders and cheap vodkas, gin and whisky:
* Sainsbury's basic cider two litre bottle (4.2 per cent alc) would rise from £1.89 to £3.36
* Tesco value vodka 700ml would rise from £8.72 to £10.52
Other “middle class” drinks would rise a bit too:
* three bottles of wine for £10 would rise to £11.70
* 12 pack of Fosters would rise from 2 packs for £16 to 2 packs for £16.90
* 50p minimum would jack up prices a lot higher:
* three bottles of wine for £10 would cost £14.63
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