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alcohol health alliance uk

Cheap supermarket booze is 188% more affordable than 30 years ago


Bottles of beer

Posted 28/02/18

New figures highlighting cheap supermarket beer is 188% more affordable than 30 years ago have been described as “extremely worrying” by Balance, fuelling ill health and putting pubs at risk.

The analysis from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) also shows off-trade wine and spirits from shops are 131% more affordable than in 1987.

It comes as Scotland prepares to introduce a 50p Minimum Unit Price on May 1, while peers prepare to debate minimum unit pricing for England in a sitting of the House of Lords today (Wednesday 28 February).

In the North East, research by Balance shows 54% of adults in the region support MUP with less than 1 in 5 (19%) opposing. And a national survey of pub managers has also found that a large majority (83%) believe that supermarket alcohol is too cheap [1].

The IAS research is the first to compare affordability in the off-trade (supermarkets and off-licences) to the on-trade (pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants) using data up to 2016. Using an affordability index adjusting prices for inflation and income growth, the study shows a widening gulf between pubs and supermarkets. It finds that:

• Off-trade beer is 188% more affordable than in 1987, compared to 31% for on-trade beer from pubs.
• ‘Off-trade wine and spirits are 131% more affordable than in 1987, compared to 34% for on-trade wine and spirits.

Recent increases in affordability – with off-trade beer rising 22% and off-trade wine and spirits rising 14% since 2012 – are attributed to alcohol tax cuts. However, these appear to have done little to support pubs, with beer affordability rising 5% in the on-trade, and wine and spirits affordability rising by just 1% in the on-trade.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “These figures are extremely worrying. As alcohol has got cheaper, individuals and communities are seeing more harm from alcohol.

“Cheap alcohol is contributing to a massive burden on our North East public services, with alcohol costing our NHS £209m a year for services like hospital admissions and A&E attendances, and police £331m in crime and disorder.

“It is also no wonder that many pub landlords see cheap supermarket alcohol is one of the biggest threats to the local community pub.”

He added: “Minimum Unit Pricing is being introduced in Scotland, while politicians in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have all committed to it. It is vital that the UK Government now follows suit, so that England does not get left behind.”

In England over the last decade, alcohol-related hospital admissions have increased by 64%, and the number of people diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer has gone up by 8%. [2]

Katherine Brown, Chief Executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said: “Evidence shows that as alcohol becomes more affordable, communities experience greater levels of harm. In England cheap alcohol is creating a huge burden on our NHS, police and public services with more than 1.2 million hospital admissions and one million crimes related to alcohol each year.

“These findings strengthen the case for minimum unit pricing, which would target the cheapest alcohol drunk by those causing damage to themselves and others without affecting the cost of a pint down the pub.”

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) will come into force in Scotland on 1st May this year. This policy will set a floor price of 50p per unit, below which alcohol cannot be sold. In England, it is estimated MUP would prevent 525 deaths and 22,000 hospital admissions each year. The measure will be considered by the House of Lords on Wednesday, when the Government responds to an oral question from Lord Rennard regarding the potential savings to the NHS and police services of introducing a minimum unit price.

Alcohol and the NE - Facts
• In the North East, it is estimated that delaying the introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) in England for five years will mean at least 75 lives lost, 11,000 alcohol related crimes and 4,600 hospital admissions which otherwise could have been avoided. This level of harm will cost the region almost £66m.
• Over one in four drinkers (26%) in the region are drinking above the Chief Medical Officer’s drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units per week for men and women. Worryingly 84% of people drinking more than 14 units consider themselves “light” or “moderate” drinkers
• Eight in 10 North Easterners think the UK’s relationship with alcohol is ‘unhealthy’

The full IAS briefing, The Rising Affordability of Alcohol, can be accessed through this link:

1 - Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) report, Pubs Quizzed: What Publicans Think About Policy, Public Health
2 - Local Alcohol Profiles for England: