The Government has moved on introducing a minimum price for alcohol
5:11am UK, Friday March 23, 2012
After months of hinting that they might introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, ministers have finally moved to do just that.
The Prime Minister is leading government action on drink-fuelled violence and binge drinking, a new “Alcohol Strategy” to tackle a problem Whitehall says costs the country £21bn a year.
Last year alone, there were almost one million alcohol-related crimes recorded (and no doubt many, many more which went unreported), and 1.2m alcohol-related hospital admissions.
Binge drinking isn’t some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country. The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear in our communities. My message is simple. We can’t go on like this.
As well as a minimum unit price, the government is banning the sale of multi-buy discount deals, increasing powers to stop the selling of alcohol to anyone who is drunk, introducing a “zero tolerance” of drunken behaviour in hospital Accident Emergency departments, and bringing in a late-night levy so that pubs and clubs have to help pay for policing.
The Government hopes minimum pricing will spell the end of cheap ciders, spirits and super-strength lagers.
David Cameron said: “Binge drinking isn’t some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country.
“The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear in our communities.
“My message is simple. We can’t go on like this. We have to tackle the scourge of violence caused by binge drinking. And we have to do it now.”
He said the Government would tackle the issue “from every angle”, adding that there would be a “real effort to get to grips with the root cause” of the problem, and “that means coming down hard on cheap alcohol.”
The move was met with opposition from the drinks industry, with some accusing Mr Cameron of being “seriously misguided”.
Retailers and drinks firms said the policy was at odds with the “responsibility deal” between alcohol companies and the Government, overseen by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.
The proposal is causing controversy
He is known to be against tighter regulation of the sector and has previously described minimum pricing as an “absurd” tool for tackling drink abuse.
The British Retail Consortium’s food director, Andrew Opie, said minimum pricing was effectively a “tax on responsible drinkers”.
He added: “David Cameron is seriously misguided. It’s simplistic to imagine a minimum price is some sort of silver bullet solution to irresponsible drinking.”
Andrew Cowan, country director of Diageo GB, whose brands include Smirnoff, Baileys and Guinness, said the move went against the government’s responsibility deal.
“Diageo has consistently supported this Government and its predecessors to tackle alcohol misuse and believes measures such as stricter law enforcement in addressing drunk and disorderly behaviour will work,” he said.
“However, the intended introduction of pricing intervention is misguided and appears to run counter to the responsibility deal set out by this Government.”
He said the move would hit consumers hard, particularly those on low incomes.
Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, which represents drinks producers, said: “For this strategy to be successful, it must not penalise the vast majority who drink responsibly or unfairly burden businesses that are helping Government tackle alcohol misuse through the responsibility deal partnership.”
However, Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “This is a victory for common sense.
“We cannot carry on with a situation where it’s cheaper to buy a can of lager than a can of Coke.”
“We fully support the Government in taking action to clamp down on booze at pocket money prices and protect the health of our children and young people.
“All the research shows there is a link between price and consumption and we know that lives can be saved if a minimum price is introduced.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, of the Royal College of Physicians and the Alcohol Health Alliance, added: “Healthcare workers who struggle every day to cope with the impact of our nation’s unhealthy drinking will welcome tough new policies in areas such as price and licensing that are based on evidence and should bring about real benefits.”
Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on alcohol, said: “Week in, week out in town centres across the country the police have to deal with the consequences of cheap alcohol and irresponsible drinking.
“I welcome the Government’s new approach that will help reduce the availability of cheap alcohol, give communities a greater say over licensing in their area and reduce pressure on the police.”