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alcohol health alliance uk

Strong, cheap alcohol is ruining the North Eastís health and wealth

Posted 19/01/10

Alcohol sold for pocket money prices is seriously damaging the health and wealth of the North East, according to the region’s alcohol office.

Balance today (w/c January 25) publishes its price survey report Selling alcohol at pocket money prices which investigates how cheaply supermarkets and off licences are selling strong alcohol.

As part of a worrying trend for super-low prices, the report reveals that a two-litre bottle of cider is available from three of the big four supermarkets for £1.21, or just 14p per unit of alcohol, and is even cheaper at the region’s discount outlets.

Across the North East, lager is being sold at 22p a can, a 70cl bottle of vodka for as little as £6.98 and cans of super strength lager and industrial white cider, which contain the daily safe alcohol limit for an adult male, for less than a loaf of bread.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “Alcohol is being sold at pocket money prices. In fact, armed with the UK average pocket money of £6.24, young consumers can purchase enough alcohol to drink twice the recommended daily limit for an adult male, every day of the week.

“Cheap alcohol is fuelling the North East’s problem with drink. Alcohol is a primary instigator in violent crime. It increases hospital admissions which drain vital NHS resources. It encourages absenteeism and causes disability which increases the amount of benefit claims.

“Research shows the more we consume, the more of a problem alcohol becomes. Supermarkets are central to our increased consumption, aggressively promoting alcohol which they routinely sell below cost to encourage shoppers through their doors. The ridiculously low prices set out in our report make it clear that alcohol pricing cannot be left to supermarkets and off licences alone.”

Jon Stoddart, Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary and member of the The North East Strategic Alcohol Board, said: “While illegal drugs tend to get all the headlines, the issue of alcohol misuse presents us with much greater problems right across the whole spectrum of criminality, ranging from minor nuisance, disorder, violence and damage up to rape, organised crime and murder. We need to get to the root of this problem and address the issue of cheap, strong alcohol as set out in Balance’s report.”

The survey was conducted in supermarkets, discount supermarkets and off licences across the region in November 2009. In addition to prices, Selling alcohol at pocket money prices contains new figures which reveal the extent of the damage which alcohol misuse is inflicting upon the North East. Across our region:

• alcohol specific hospital admissions are up to 62% higher than the national average
• rates of death from chronic liver disease increased by 15% for men and 5% for women between 2004 and 2008
• alcohol related issues cost the economy more than £1bn a year or £400 for every man, woman and child in the North East
• nearly half of all violent crime is alcohol related
• almost half of all adults believe alcohol is a major cause of crime
• between 2008 and 2009 the region’s three police forces dealt with more than 6,000 domestic abuse incidents where alcohol was a factor
• claims for incapacity benefit and severe disablement allowance due to alcoholism are the second highest in the country.

Balance is using Selling alcohol at pocket money prices to support the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol, which would link the price of an alcoholic drink to its strength. The report has been accompanied by an open letter to Government from the North East’s directors of public health which calls for the introduction of a minimum price.

Colin explained: “Information, education and individual responsibility are clearly all part of tackling the UK’s serious problem with alcohol, but we cannot ignore the clear link between alcohol price and consumption and need to address the widespread availability of cheap alcohol.”

Research carried out by the University of Sheffield shows that a minimum price of 50p per unit would cut consumption and consequentially deaths, crimes and hospital admissions and reduce the economic burden. It also suggests that if a minimum price of 40p a unit was introduced, moderate drinkers would only be estimated to spend an extra 21p per week on alcohol.

“A minimum price is about ensuring alcohol is not available for pocket money prices. It will have greatest effect on strong, cheap alcohol, for instance, the introduction of a minimum price would have no effect on the price of a pint in your local,” added Colin.

Headline findings from the report

It comes as no surprise that alcohol is widely and cheaply available. However, some of Balance’s findings show just how low supermarkets and off licences in the North East are prepared to go to attract customers.

• Cider is the cheapest alcoholic drink, available in discount supermarkets for just 12p per unit and 14p per unit from the big four supermarkets and off licences (both independent and chains).
• Own brand lager and bitter (2%, between 0.9 and 1 unit) is available for as little as 22p a can.
• Cans and bottles of leading brand lager and bitter (1.5 – 1.8 units) are available for less than £1 at most supermarkets – cheaper than a 500ml bottle of a leading cola.
• Own brand vodka can be purchased for as little as 27p a unit, or £6.98 for an entire bottle (containing 37.5 units).
• Using the average weekly pocket money of £6.24, young consumers can buy five bottles of dry cider with a combined total of 42 units, twice the recommended safe weekly limit for an adult male, with change to spare.
• A 500ml can of 7.5% Diamond White Cider, containing the daily safe limit for an adult male, is routinely available at off licences across the region for less than the price of a 500ml bottle of a leading cola.
• A two litre bottle of cider (containing 8.4units) or a can of leading brand super-strength lager can be purchased for less than the price of a loaf of bread or six eggs.