Churches condemn Government U-turn on alcohol pricing

Churches are condemning the Coalition Government for breaking its pledge to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

The Church of England, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Salvation Army and Quaker Action on Alcohol & Drugs are deeply disappointed that the Government has abandoned this vital policy.
Jeremy Browne, the Minister for Crime Prevention, has said minimum unit pricing will remain ‘under consideration’. But his claim that there is not enough ‘concrete evidence’ to implement it flies in the face of five years of medical research.

There were over 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions in 2011-12 in England, and the cost to the NHS was £3.5 billion. The total bill to the taxpayer caused by alcohol misuse, including crime and lost productivity, is currently £21 billion.

Research has shown that the main driver of problem drinking in the United Kingdom is the increased availability of cheap, strong alcohol. A minimum unit price of 50p could save around 3,000 lives a year. Critics have expressed concerns that a minimum price would penalise ordinary drinkers, but on current prices it would cost moderate drinkers 28p a week, with substantial benefits to public health and reduced burdens on frontline services.

The Government has also refused to legislate on multibuy sales, which encourage irresponsible selling and consumption of alcohol. Instead it has reverted to its 2011 commitment to ban the below-cost sale of alcohol, defined as duty + VAT. Jeremy Browne has said that under these rules a can of lager cannot be sold for less than 40p. Other prices for common drinks include a can of cider for 21p, a bottle of wine for £2.40 and a litre of vodka for £12.70. But hardly any alcohol is this cheap at retail, so a ban on below-cost sales is unnecessary, and the limit far too low to make a real difference. This back down follows several years of prevarication by successive Governments, which has resulted in a weak and inconsistent alcohol strategy.

James North, Policy Advisor for the Methodist Church, said: “The Government’s failure to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol will cost lives. As Churches we are deeply concerned at the effect of alcohol misuse on problem drinkers, families and communities. With nearly 9,000 deaths directly related to alcohol in 2011, this is no time for inaction. We look forward to the Government rectifying this decision and putting public health back at the top of its agenda.”

Churches will continue to work alongside medical experts and health charities to campaign for minimum unit pricing as part of a range of measures aiming to address problem drinking in the UK.