Will it really make a difference?

There is a clear association between affordability and how much people drink. We can all look back at the time of grandparents and great grandparents when alcohol was drunk once a week, or even less, only at special occasions.

Canada has introduced a minimum price and we know it is working from recent research they have published.

Research from the University of Sheffield has found that a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol would reduce consumption:

  • per drinker by 6.9% on average
  • per 11-18 year old drinker by 7.3%
  • per 18-24 year old hazardous drinkers by 3%
  • of harmful drinkers by 10.3%
  • of moderate drinkers by 3.5%

Under a minimum 50p per unit, moderate drinkers would pay just 28p extra a week, saving thousands of lives and preventing tens of thousands of crimes.

Surely that’s a small price worth paying – or do we value life so cheaply in Britain today?

Is alcohol already too expensive?

  • In 2011, alcohol was 45% more affordable than it was in 1980 – that means the price is less relative to the income we have.
  • Alcohol can kill, but in some places it’s cheaper than a bottle of water – these are the products targeted by a minimum price per unit – this policy only targets those drinks sold very cheaply.
  • Strong alcohol is often sold at pocket money prices. For example, a very large bottle of basic cider (2 litres) at £1.18, or a can of basic lager at 23p – which is often cheaper than bottled water.

Will those who enjoy an occasional drink be penalised for the minority who drink too much?

  • The current policy of low alcohol prices means that responsible drinkers are subsidising the price for a quarter of the population who are drinking at hazardous and harmful levels, with supermarkets charging more for everyday groceries to subsidise cheap alcohol prices.
  • A minimum price per unit will only cost a moderate drinker 28p a week as moderate drinkers don’t tend to buy the bargain basement drinks.
  • This measure is targeted at helping vulnerable groups who need the most support and those doing the most harm, not the sensible majority.

Is it a tax?

No. It sets a price floor beneath which alcohol cannot be sold.

Under a minimum 50p per unit, moderate drinkers would pay just 28p
extra a week.

Taxes increase prices of all drinks – a minimum price only impacts the very cheapest.

Will business profit at the expense of consumers?

  • Supermarkets use alcohol as a loss leader. As a consequence some have increased the price of non-alcoholic goods.
  • Government will be talking to supermarkets, encouraging them to reduce the price of other goods.
  • The cost to business of alcohol is enormous with at least 17 million working days lost annually due to alcohol-caused absenteeism and lost productivity due to illness and hangover.

Is this a reduction of our freedom to choose?

  • No. Under a MUP people will still be free to choose to drink alcohol. The only difference will be that cheapest, stronger alcohol, drunk by those who drink the most and those who cause the most problems, will be more expensive.
  • It is supported by a range of organisations and individuals which have public interest at heart. This includes doctors, the police and even publicans.
  • Under a minimum 50p per unit, moderate drinkers would pay just 28p extra a week.

Should we be tackling this issue by focusing on education?

The World Health Organisation and many other experts and evidence tell us that education on its own isn’t enough. The World Health Organisation 2010 alcohol report recommends a range of actions including policy interventions on price.

Would a minimum price per unit be legal to introduce?

  • Both UK competition law and EU free trade law allow for the setting of a minimum unit price for the retail sale of alcohol by a government or public authority for public health purposes.
  • The EC treaty states that restrictions on the free movement of goods can be justified if it is on the grounds of public policy and the protection of health.
  • The European Court of Justice has accepted the right of member states to use pricing measures to control consumption and harm for public health objectives.

Could it lead to a growth in the illegal alcohol trade which will result in an increase in health costs and crime?

  • This is not an excuse to do nothing.
  • We can learn from our partners who work to tackle smoking problems. For example, despite fears cash strapped smokers would turn to illicit tobacco during the recession, the volume of illicit tobacco bought reduced by 39% in the North East between 2009 and 2011. This had an estimated saving of over £36m in lost duty and VAT evasion.
  • Illicit trade is a threat to controlling the sale of alcohol and is already alive and well.
  • According to the World Health Organisation, policing and control is the solution to illicit trade.

Isn’t our drinking a cultural thing – will a price change really make a difference?

  • Our drinking culture hasn’t always been at this scale. We’re drinking twice as much as we did in the 1950s.
  • In 2011, alcohol was 45% more affordable than it was in 1980, this is about re-balancing.
  • We need to use the same levers to put the genie back in the bottle – that means making it less affordable – especially to children and young people.

European countries like France and Spain don’t have a problem with alcohol and alcohol’s even cheaper there than it is here. Isn’t it about culture and not price?

  • It’s a myth that Europe does not have a problem with alcohol – Europe has the highest drinking levels in the world.
  • Affordability, availability and promotion of alcohol have created the alcohol culture we have today.

Do pubs support this measure?

  • CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) estimates 16 pubs a week are closing their doors – driven by cheap prices in bargain alcohol stores and supermarkets.
  • Almost four in five publicans back a minimum unit price.
  • Pubs look after their customers by ensuring a responsibility which supermarkets lack when they incentivise excessive drinking by heavily discounting alcohol.

Is alcohol really that dangerous?

  • A minimum price is not about stopping people enjoying alcohol. But alcohol is a drug. It’s linked to more than 60 medical conditions and is the second biggest cause of cancer in people over 35 (after smoking).
  • We can’t treat it like just another everyday household product like a tin of beans.

Will this lead to job losses?

  • Jobs are already being lost because small businesses such as pubs and off licenses can’t compete with cheap bargain store and supermarket prices.
  • CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) estimates that 16 pubs a week are closing their doors at present.
  • Many off licence chains have disappeared because they can’t compete with supermarket prices.
  • Minimum unit price will help level the playing field meaning that drinking at home is no longer more attractive than going out and having a good time – and in many cases people pre-load – drink more cheaply before going out, thereby increasing the overall level of drunkenness and drinking.

Will dependant drinkers turn to crime in order to feed their habit?

  • Alcohol is already a major cause of crime. Almost half of all violent crime is alcohol related.
  • A minimum unit price is an important part of the solution. There’s a clear link between affordability and the amount people drink. People who can no longer afford large quantities of alcohol will seek treatment. Public services know that a minimum unit price is not a magic bullet and those who turn to crime to feed an alcohol habit clearly also require treatment. They are therefore working closely together to plan and deliver more effective, targeted treatment.