- by Madeleine Harris Smith
- Policy & Advocacy Manager
- Alcohol Health Alliance
Every single hour a person in the UK is killed by alcohol (1). Every single month, 75,000 violent incidents take place where the victim believes the offender to be under the influence of alcohol (2). Every single year, 1.2 million people are admitted to hospital due to alcohol-related causes (3).
Behind every single one of those statistics is a loved one – a friend, a parent, a sibling, a child.
And alcohol does not just harm the individual drinker; it all too often affects innocent bystanders, through its role in child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, family breakdown and crime and disorder. And as well as the human toll, alcohol costs our country £21 billion every year (4).
The availability of alcohol has increased far beyond the local pub, and is now 61% more affordable than it was in 1980 (5). The majority of alcohol is now sold in supermarkets and off licenses, where it is routinely offered at less than cost price to entice people into stores (6) – a can of super strength white cider, such as Frosty Jack’s, can currently be sold for about 16p. Of all alcohol sold, very cheap products play the biggest part in driving alcohol-related harm (7).
Due to existing health inequalities the cruellest effects of alcohol are felt most by those who can least afford it, due to existing health inequalities. Even though as a group they don’t consume as much alcohol as more affluent groups, people in the most deprived areas of the country are disproportionately more likely to experience the impacts of alcohol-related crime, are more likely to suffer the impacts of alcohol-related health conditions and are more likely to die from an alcohol-caused condition (8).
There isn’t one ‘silver bullet’ to fix this epidemic, but in terms of building an effective alcohol strategy for the UK, implementing a minimum unit price must be the foundation stone. A minimum unit price would allow all alcoholic beverages to be priced based on their strength, with stronger drinks, such as high-strength white cider and spirits priced higher than their lower-strength alternatives. This precisely targets the products that are consumed by young drinkers and people drinking harmful quantities, without penalising moderate drinkers, including those on lower incomes.
Research commissioned by the Government as part of its consultation on the Alcohol Strategy confirms that minimum unit pricing is far more effective at tackling alcohol-related harm than the Government’s current ban on the ‘below cost sales’ of alcohol. A 50p minimum unit price would result in a reduction of 50,700 less alcohol related crimes and a reduction of 35,100 hospital admissions by year ten, alongside an overall reduction in alcohol consumption of 2.5%.
Minimum unit pricing would not adversely impact moderate drinkers, with the price of the majority of alcohol on our shelves and in our pubs remaining unaffected. In fact, moderate drinkers across all income groups would spend just 78p more on alcoholic drinks per year (9).
Minimum unit pricing would play a pivotal role in tackling health inequalities without penalising moderate drinkers on low incomes. As lower income households disproportionately suffer the harms of alcohol, they would see the greatest benefits from minimum unit pricing.
Data from the University of Sheffield suggests that routine and manual worker households would account for over 80% of the reduction in deaths and hospital admissions brought about by a minimum unit price and yet the consumption of moderate drinkers in low income groups would only drop by the equivalent of two pints of beer a year (10).
Minimum unit pricing would also reduce drinking among children and young people, as they are particularly sensitive to price changes, as research into tobacco pricing has demonstrated (11). The affordability of alcohol, and particularly the attractive price promotions in off licenses, supermarkets and other shops, means that it is often cheaper for our children and young adults to drink than to participate in other social activities such as going to the cinema or bowling (12).
We experienced a devastating setback for public health when the Government ‘U-turned’ on implementing a minimum unit price last year, citing a lack of evidence that the level of problem drinking would be reduced without ‘penalising those who drink responsibly’. This is indicative of the misinformation that surrounds the policy and that it is our job, as public health campaigners, to try and dispel.
Alcohol tears apart families and damages entire communities – its impact is felt across the board and there is not a neighbourhood in the UK that remains untouched. We are experiencing nothing short of a national crisis because of alcohol – we must act now to stop this.
1) ONS, Alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom, registered in 2012 – ONS. 2014. Accessed June 19, 2014.
2) ONS, Focus on: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2011/12. 2014. Accessed June 19, 2014.
3) Gov.uk. Reducing harmful drinking – Policy – GOV.UK. 2013. Accessed June 19, 2014.
4) HM Government, March 2012 ‘The Government’s Alcohol Strategy’ Cm 8336 201, para 1.3
5) Health and Social Care Information Centre. Statistics on Alcohol: England, 2013. 2014. Accessed June 19, 2014.
6) Bennetts R. IAS Briefing Paper: Use of Alcohol As A Loss-Leader. Institute of Alcohol Studies; 2014.
7) Bennetts R. 2014, Ibid
8) North West Public Health Observatory, Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University. New Local Alcohol Profiles for England reveal the poorest suffer the greatest health harms from booze culture.; 2012.
9) Holmes, J. et al, Eﬀects of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on diﬀerent income and socioeconomic groups: a modelling study’ The Lancet, Published online February 10, 2014 Last accessed 30 May 2014
10) Holmes, J. et al, (2014) Op Cit.
11) Zhang, B., Cohen, J., Ferrence, R., and Rehm, J. The Impact of Tobacco Tax Cuts on Smoking Initiation Among Canadian Young Adult. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 006;30(6):474–479; Rice, N. et al. A systematic review of the effects of price on the smoking behaviour of young people. (London: LSHTM, 2009).
12) The Cinema Exhibitors Association Limited. UK cinema – average ticket prices 2000-2013, Last accessed 18 June 2014; YouGov. Cinema cost concerns mount. Last accessed 18 June 2014