Just days before the UK Supreme Court hears a case to decide whether introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol is legal, a survey published today shows that cheap, strong alcohol continues to be sold for pocket money prices up and down the country.
One year ago, a survey of alcohol prices across the UK found an abundance of cheap drinks being sold in shops and supermarkets, with high-strength cider available at the lowest prices.
A follow up review carried out this month in England, Scotland and Wales has found that these cheap prices remain largely unchanged, with products across the market still falling well below the 50p per unit mark recommended by health and alcohol bodies.
Both price reviews were carried out by the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), a group of medical royal colleges, alcohol organisations and health bodies. In this year’s review, the AHA found that cider continued to be sold at the lowest prices overall, with 3-litre bottles of 7.5% ABV cider (containing the equivalent of 22 shots of vodka) moving from £3.49 in 2016 to just £3.59 in 2017 (or 16p per unit).
At that price, for the cost of a small latte in Starbucks it is possible to buy more alcohol than the weekly recommended limit of alcohol.
The cheapest wine surveyed in 2016 was found to be even cheaper in 2017, and available for just 31p per unit.
Cheap, high-strength alcohol is known to be predominantly drunk by the most vulnerable groups, including children and the homeless, and a minimum unit price for alcohol of 50p per unit was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2012, only to be held up by a legal challenge from sections of the alcohol industry. The Welsh government recently announced it will legislate for minimum unit pricing, and the Northern Ireland Executive has also expressed its desire to implement the policy.
The AHA said that today’s figures provide yet more evidence for the need for minimum unit pricing to be introduced across the UK.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said:
“It is frankly unacceptable that it is possible to buy enough alcohol to exceed the new recommended alcohol guidelines for the price of a high street coffee. We need minimum unit pricing for alcohol so that the damage being done by the cheapest products to the most vulnerable in society can be brought to an end. We hope and expect that following the hearing on minimum unit pricing next week, Scotland will be given the green light to introduce the policy."
“With the recent announcement that the Welsh government also intends to legislate for minimum pricing, and a previous commitment to MUP from the Northern Ireland Executive, it is imperative that the UK government now legislates for MUP, so that England does not get left behind the rest of the UK. The Westminster government expressed its intention to introduce minimum pricing five years ago, but has still not delivered on this commitment."
“The evidence is clear – minimum unit pricing would save lives, reduce hospital admissions and cut crime. In addition, it would disproportionately benefit the poorest groups. Studies show that 8 out of 10 lives saved through minimum pricing would come from the lowest income groups."
“With alcohol-related hospital admissions at record highs, and liver disease rates on the rise, we can’t afford for alcohol to remain at such low prices."