Health, homelessness and children’s leaders have today urged the government to implement minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in England.
The calls come as MUP comes into effect in Scotland, where it is expected to reduce alcohol deaths and levels of alcohol-related harm, as well as cut crime and reduce costs to the health service.
Campaigners said that, following the roll out of MUP in Scotland, it is vital that England does not get left behind in terms of reducing the harm done by alcohol. Campaigners pointed to estimates which suggest that, if MUP in England were to be delayed by 5 years, over a thousand lives could be lost.
MUP works by setting a floor price below which a unit of alcohol cannot be sold. In Scotland, this floor price will be set at 50p per unit. This means that a pint of beer containing 2 units will now have to cost at least £1, and a bottle of wine containing 9 units will have to cost at least £4.50.
The measure is designed to increase the price of the cheapest, strongest drinks consumed by those experiencing the worst alcohol-related harms.
In practice, MUP will leave prices in pubs, bars and restaurants virtually untouched, and raise the price of products like supermarket own-brand vodka and super-strength lagers, which are typically consumed by the most vulnerable groups, such as children and street drinkers.
Moderate drinkers are estimated on average to barely change their consumption or spending in response to MUP.
In response to the introduction of MUP in Scotland, and commenting on the need for the measure in England, Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy at the British Liver Trust said, “There has been 400% increase of liver disease over the last 40 years and at the same time alcohol has become less expensive and more easily available. Setting a Minimum Unit Price for alcohol targets cheap booze bought by very heavy drinkers and leaves moderate drinkers completely unaffected. We hope that the rest of the UK follows Scotland’s example so that more lives can be saved.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said: ‘We congratulate the Scottish government on the introduction of minimum unit pricing. The Westminster government should now follow Scotland’s lead, and introduce MUP in England.
‘Cheap alcohol is wrecking lives and livelihoods in England as well as Scotland. There are more than 23,000 deaths a year in England due 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.’
Commenting on the impact MUP is estimated to have on homeless people, Jeremy Swain, Chief Executive of Thames Reach, a charity supporting homeless people, 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.
‘In a recent survey, we found that 10 in 16 deaths among our hostel residents were directly linked to these drinks. This is not a one-off finding. In the previous year, the figure was 11 out of 14 deaths.
‘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.’
Commenting on MUP’s impact on children, Sam Royston, Director of Policy & 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.
“While minimum unit pricing has the potential to make a real difference to young lives it must also be combined with other changes, including more investment in early family help to tackle alcohol misuse and improvements in education of both children and adults about the risks.”