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UK Government urged to adopt minimum pricing plan for alcohol

Strong public support for higher alcohol taxes to help fund public services

Balance is calling for higher alcohol taxes to help fund public services

Posted 07/05/18

Health, homelessness and children’s leaders have today urged the government to implement minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in England.

The calls come as MUP comes into effect in Scotland, with the aim of reducing alcohol deaths and hospital admissions, as well as cutting crime and reducing costs to the health service.

Campaigners say it is vital that England does not get left behind, pointing to estimates which suggest delaying MUP in England by 5 years could lead to:
• 1,148 lives lost nationally
• Lead to 82,000 alcohol-related crimes taking place
• A cost to the NHS of £326 million

For the North East a five year delay could mean 75 additional North East lives lost, 11,000 alcohol related crimes and 4,600 hospital admissions which otherwise could have been avoided, costing the region almost £66m.

MUP is designed to increase the price of the cheapest, strongest drinks consumed by those experiencing the worst alcohol-related harms. It works by setting a floor price below which a unit of alcohol cannot be sold.

In Scotland, the floor price will be set at 50p per unit. This means that a pint of beer containing 2 units will now have to cost at least £1. It also means a 3 litre bottle of high strength white cider containing the equivalent of 22 shots of vodka will cost over £11 in Scotland as opposed to as little as £3.50 in England.

In practice, MUP will leave prices in pubs, bars and restaurants virtually untouched, and raise the price of products like supermarket own-brand vodka and super-strength lagers, which are typically consumed by the most vulnerable groups, such as children and street drinkers.

In response to the introduction of MUP in Scotland, and commenting on the need for the measure in England, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said:

“We congratulate the Scottish government on the introduction of minimum unit pricing. The Westminster government should now follow Scotland’s lead, and introduce MUP in England immediately.

“Cheap alcohol is wrecking lives and livelihoods in England as well as Scotland. There are more than 23,000 deaths a year in England linked to alcohol, and many of these come from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society.

“Minimum unit pricing will save lives, cut crime and benefit the public finances. At the same time, pub prices will be left untouched, and moderate drinkers will barely notice the difference under MUP.

“There has been some excellent work in the North East to raise awareness of alcohol and cancer and the region also has the highest rate of sign-ups for Dry January. However, the harms of alcohol are felt most severely by the poorest people in society. The government has taken action on tobacco and on sugar- so why not alcohol?

“Any delay in implementing MUP in England will only cost lives and lead to unnecessary alcohol-related harm. We urge the Westminster government to act now.”

Dr Guy Pilkington, Clinical Chair of the Newcastle/ Gateshead CCG, said: “In my surgery I see people who are damaging themselves and others with their use of alcohol. Those people most vulnerable to cheap alcohol are the young, the poorest and those living with mental health issues.

“There is really good evidence that these cheap sources of alcohol - and they are very cheap - are the ones causing most harm to people who are damaging themselves through the amount they drink.

The main effect of a minimum unit price would be that harmful drinkers, and children who buy these types of drink, do themselves much less harm.”

Commenting on the impact MUP is estimated to have on homeless people, Jeremy Swain, Chief Executive of Thames Reach, a charity supporting homeless people, said:

“Cheap, high-strength ciders and super-strength lagers are responsible for more deaths among homeless people in the UK than either heroin or crack cocaine.

“In a recent survey, we found that 10 in 16 deaths among our hostel residents were directly linked to these drinks. This is not a one-off finding. In the previous year, the figure was 11 out of 14 deaths.

“Minimum unit pricing would significantly raise the price of these damaging products, creating a strong motivation for the vulnerable, dependent drinkers we support to move to weaker, less damaging drinks. Without doubt, this change will diminish the extreme health problems experienced by dependent drinkers in our projects and, ultimately, save lives.

“We call on the Westminster government to act now to ensure minimum unit pricing is implemented in England urgently.”

Commenting on MUP’s impact on children, Sam Royston, Director of Policy & Research at The Children’s Society, said:

“We know through our research and direct support for children that parents’ alcohol misuse can tear families apart, is linked to domestic abuse, and children living in families affected by mental ill health, or facing homelessness.

“There is clear evidence that minimum unit pricing targeting the cheapest alcohol reduces consumption and harm. This can only help to reduce the devastating impact problem drinking by parents can have on families.

“While minimum unit pricing has the potential to make a real difference to young lives it must also be combined with other changes, including more investment in early family help to tackle alcohol misuse and improvements in education of both children and adults about the risks.”

Counting the cost of alcohol in the North East

The estimated cost of alcohol harm in the North East was a staggering £1.01 billion a year in 2015/16.

• £209 million in NHS and healthcare for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and also treatment for alcohol dependency.
• £331 million in crime and disorder, including 55,300 cases of criminal damage, 154,900 cases of theft and 20,000 cases of violence against the person.
• £353 million lost to local businesses and employers through absenteeism, lost productivity and alcohol related deaths, including 548,400 days off and 8,249 potential years of working life lost due to alcohol related deaths.
• £121 million in costs to children and adults’ social services and substance misuse services.
• These figures would equate to £386 per head for every man, woman and child in the North East, compared to an average national figure of £363.