/ Food & Drink, Health

Will a minimum 40p per alcohol unit cure binge drinking?

It’s Friday night, I’m preparing for a big night out. I pop to the shops, top up my alcohol cabinet and get ready to hit the town. Will the 40p unit price proposal really stop this kind of behaviour and sober up Britain?

You’ll likely to have seen headlines that the government is set to charge a minimum alcohol unit price of 40p. The move is hoped to reduce binge drinking and anti-social behaviour.

The government claims the 40p a unit minimum price could result in 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 9,000 fewer alcohol related deaths over the next decade. In fact, reports in the Guardian say this move could add £135 to the annual bill of a heavy drinker.

Do you think higher prices will help any of the UK’s drink-related social problems, or will it just be another price rise for consumers to cope with this year?

Preloading alcoholic drinks

We’ve hosted similar alcohol discussions on Which? Conversation in the past. Last year the government proposed minimum alcohol prices suggesting a 400ml can of lager couldn’t be sold for less that 38p and a bottle of wine for no less than £2.03.

Commenter M Richards wasn’t sure whether last year’s minimum alcohol prices would solve the issue and proposed more extreme measures:

‘People intent on getting drunk will in the main not be deterred by the modest price changes. I would introduce hospital charges for people who need treatment and are drunk, and a high fine for anyone drunk committing a violent offence.’

And Ken Milne thinks the issue has deeper roots:

‘Over reaction to binge drinking is causing other problems when perhaps we should find out why there is a need to binge drink in the first place.’

Some sobering thoughts

And although the government believes responsible drinkers will be unaffected by the changes, commenter Chris Gloucestershire is worried that they will:

‘I strongly disagree with this approach to combat binge drinking. By increasing the price of booze the government is penalising everyone for the actions of a minority. That simply isn’t fair, worse still it treats everyone with equal contempt.

‘Binge drinking is a British social problem. On the continent booze is much cheaper and they don’t seem to have this problem to any significant degree.’

At today’s suggested 40p a unit, a weak can of lager (3.6% alcohol) would cost at least 80p and a bottle of wine (12.5% alcohol) would be £3.75.

Do you think such alcohol price increases would stop binge drinkers from hitting the bottle?

And if you’re wondering, my Friday is more likely to involve a small glass of sauvignon blanc, in my PJs, tucked up in front of the TV. There’ll be no ‘drunken mayhem’ in my flat tonight (fingers crossed).

David W says:
31 March 2012

If your addicted to drink it still won’t stop you, If you enjoy a night out and get legless fine them £100 keep locked up till that pay. But why should people pay extra for their drink when the do drink sencibly its just another tax on the majority, why should we not help those with the problem. I am afraid their are MPs in this government who earn far to much money and are not in touch with the real people. I subscribe to Which Magazine to get the best value deals (Why not set up a political party Which)

Old Pedant says:
31 March 2012

Dave, I agree with you on fining legless drunks, and about our out of touch MPs.

However, I’m really sorry to be pedantic, but I think the education system has let you and many others down badly. Nothing wrong with your logic, but your ability to make a point in writing would have been greatly helped if you had been taught to use English correctly!

“If your addicted …” I think you mean “If you’re addicted …” (your is not short for you are)

“If you enjoy a night out and get legless fine them £100 keep locked up till that pay.” muddles 2nd person (you) and third person (them) and switches the principal from subject to object making it unclear who you refer to. (Does “them” refer to the drinker or the bar owner?) Better to say “If you enjoy a night out and get legless, you should be fined £100 and kept locked up until you pay.” (note also, till is a completely different word with a different meaning from until or ’til)

I’m assuming that you just left out the word majority between “the” and “do”

“sencibly” should be “sensibly”

“its just another tax” should be “it’s …” (short for it is… and the only time an apostrophe is used in that word)

“I am afraid their are MPs…” should be “.. there are MPs…”

“far to much money” should be “far too much money”

Please don’t shoot the messenger!

David W says:
31 March 2012

I will make two comment’s if you got the gist of the comment the I’ve got my point over. If my english is bad I apologise. I just wish the people like you who are so knowledgable were running the Country instead the idiot’s now in parliament.

Old Pedant says:
31 March 2012


I apologise for being pedantic. You did get your points across.

Maurice says:
2 April 2012

The medical professions, health & social services and the police all know that establishing a minimum cost per unit of alcohol will result in a reduced per captita consumption and an associated decrease in alcohol-related problems. The alcohol problems that are so predominant in current Irish/British society do not arise from the very very small percentage of people who are dependant upon alcohol. The mass of problems arise from over consumption by ordinary people because alcohol is relatively cheap and widely available. For years, at least since the early 1980s, research has clearly established increased and decresased per captia consumption based upon price and availability. It makes no sense referring to continental drinking cultures becasue our culture is very different. The facts remains that as long as alcohol is ridiculously cheap and widely available we will continue to face the many and varied social problems directly caused by over consumption. I would not mind paying extra for alcohol and I would not feel penalised because I and my children and loved ones are the very people who are contunuously assaulted and affected by the significant alcohol caused social problems that affect every other person within sociaty.

Robert says:
2 April 2012

Yes, but the question is whether price (alone) is the right mechanism, especially in the current economic climate? On Maurice’s argument, alcohol consumption would have been falling since 2008/9 when people started getting poorer. Has it? I don’t think so – and have you bought a drink in a club recently? You need a mortgage to go with it!. Without an integrated approach to reducing the availability of alcohol and enforcement of the law, one can only draw the conclusion that the Government sees it as a revenue opportunity and nothing more.

If the Government is serious about reducing binge drinking and alcohol consumption generally they need to take alcohol out of supermarkets and sell it only in limited hours off-licenses (or in a separate area of supermarkets that is closed at 5.30 or 6.00 pm), reduce the number of clubs allowed in city centres, and their opening hours, or at least stop alcohol sales at midnight with a 15 minute drinking up time (I can hear the howls of anguish already!) By all means allow clubs to stay open later, but only selling non-alcoholic drinks. Also apply the existing laws on people who are drunk in public and licensees who sell to intoxicated people or in quantities that are likely to get people intoxicated. They should be fined for every drunk that leaves their premises.

Call me cynical, but I believe the Government does not want us to reduce consumption, as they would lose duty and VAT revenue. So a bit of minor tinkering at the edges is done for the sake of being seen to be doing something, but without actually tackling the problem. Limiting the hours for off-license sales would certainly reduce consumption, but I bet we never see it done!

David W says:
3 April 2012

Thank you for you input Roger
As for alcohol being cheap, Maurice must have a fairly big income,
When alcohol is made the tax starts at the beginning of the potential ammount of the sugar in any form can make alcohol and then more tax is put at the end.
I believe it takes about 9 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of beer the way beer its going you will be drinking coloured water, (although it seems like that now) it is now becoming more economical to start your own brewing again wine or beer.(watch the share prices in home brew equipment)
Sorry about the english but in future years we might not have to worry about it there may be another national language, I have to look hard for English at the Hospital.

Increase the price of a (legal or illegal) drug and you increase the crime that results in obtaining and distribution that drug. Raises in alcohol or Tobacco duty increase smuggling. Milton Friedman pointed this out decades ago.

I do not see why moderate drinkers should be penalised for a drunken louts. I agree with a previous emailer that drunks who have to go to hospital should have to pay for their treatment. Why is binge drinking such a problem such a problem for the English? I have just come back from the Canary Islands

Robert says:
11 April 2012

John, We’re all dying to know what happened in the Canary Islands!!

Sorry my comment about the Canary Islands was cut short! We bought two litre bottles of gin for £4.90. If price is the main factor in determining the level of drunkenness? How come we did not see a single drunk in our fortnight?

gvc says:
14 May 2012

I dont see why us as moderate sensible drinkers who I may add are not on wages like those that are making these decisions, should be penalised for drunken louts- they will find ways to get their kicks. I agree too with a previous emailer that drunks who have to go to hospital should have to pay for their treatment and leave us people alone to enjoy life — its so expensive to drink out in pubs now many of us have to stay home, have friends over and enjoy a few glasses of their favorite tipple.

how large is 1 unit???

Robert says:
24 April 2013

One UK unit is 10 ml of pure alcohol.

A standard 25ml shot of 40% spirits is 1 unit, as is half a pint of 3.5% beer.
A small 125ml glass of 12% wine is 1.5 units, and a whole bottle is 9 units.
A large 175ml glass of 14% wine is 2.45 units and a whole bottle is 10.5 units.
A pint of 5.5% cider or beer is 3.1 units.

davidaw says:
24 April 2013

I’m sorry to say this but longer opening hours and nigh on every corner shop selling booze and the High prices in bars and clubs cause the abuse themselves, increasing blanket prices for the majority says i want more money for the coffers. just dont vote tory in the next election.