More than 1,000 lives could be lost if England fails to mirror Scotland’s sweeping reforms to alcohol pricing within five years, campaigners have warned.
Medical leaders have joined with a leading children’s organisation and a homelessness charity to call for minimum unit pricing (MUP) to be implemented south of the border.
The changes, coming into effect in Scotland on Tuesday, will drive up the price of bargain booze by setting a floor price below which a unit of alcohol cannot be sold.
It is hoped the move will curb alcohol related death and illnesses, while reducing crime and lessening the burden excessive drinking places on the health service.
The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), a group of more than 50 medical organisations including the British Medical Association, Royal College of GPs and Alcohol Concern, launched an intervention with the Children’s Society and homelessness charity Thames Reach on Tuesday.
They said that a delay of five years could lead to more than 1,000 people dying in England from alcohol-related problems.
MUP would not affect bars and pubs in England, instead pushing up the price of cheap supermarket vodka and super-strength lagers which are popular with street drinkers and other vulnerable groups, the group said.
Chair of AHA Sir Ian Gilmore said: “Cheap alcohol is wrecking lives and livelihoods in England as well as Scotland.
“There are more than 23,000 deaths a year in England linked to alcohol and many of these come from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society.
“Minimum unit pricing will save lives, cut crime and benefit the public finances. At the same time, pub prices will be left untouched and moderate drinkers will barely notice the difference under MUP.
“Any delay in implementing MUP in England will only cost lives and lead to unnecessary alcohol-related harm. We urge the Westminster government to act now.”’
As of Tuesday, the floor price for alcohol will be set at 50p per unit, meaning a pint of beer containing two units will have to cost at least £1, while a nine-unit bottle of wine will be a minimum of £4.50.
Chief executive of Thames Reach Jeremy Swain said: “Cheap, high-strength ciders and super-strength lagers are responsible for more deaths among homeless people in the UK than either heroin or crack cocaine.”
He added: “Minimum unit pricing would significantly raise the price of these damaging products, creating a strong motivation for the vulnerable, dependent drinkers we support to move to weaker, less damaging drinks. Without doubt, this change will diminish the extreme health problems experienced by dependent drinkers in our projects and ultimately, save lives.
“We call on the Westminster government to act now to ensure minimum unit pricing is implemented in England urgently.”
Sam Royston, director of policy and research at the Children’s Society, said: “We know through our research and direct support for children that parents’ alcohol misuse can tear families apart, is linked to domestic abuse and children living in families affected by mental ill health or facing homelessness.
“There is clear evidence that minimum unit pricing targeting the cheapest alcohol reduces consumption and harm. This can only help to reduce the devastating impact problem drinking by parents can have on families.”
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