/ Food & Drink, Money, Shopping

Are the new minimum alcohol prices right?

Close up of beer

Shops and pubs will soon be banned from selling alcohol under a minimum amount. Some believe this will help cut binge drinking and crime – others say it doesn’t go far enough. What do you make of the prices?

Binge drinking on the rise, alcohol-related illnesses rocketing, crime continuing… booze is the root of all evil, right?

Well, that’s a whole debate in itself, and answers would depend on your own attitude to, and experiences with, alcohol. But will higher prices help any of these drink-related social problems, or will it just be another price rise for consumers to cope with this year?

The new minimum prices for alcohol

If you missed the news yesterday, I’ll quickly sum it up for you. Ministers have announced a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales, which works out at 38p for a can of weak lager and £10.71 for a litre of vodka. The image below gives a good breakdown of the costs across different types of drink.

Illustration of new alcohol prices

Minister for crime prevention, James Brokenshire, said: ‘We know that pricing controls can help reduce alcohol-related violent crime and this is a crucial step in tackling the availability of cheap alcohol.’

But others aren’t so supportive of the changes. ‘It’s a step in the right direction, but I have to say its an extremely small step,’ Professor Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘It’ll have no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of cheap drinks sold, for example, in supermarkets.”

A cursory check on both Tesco and Asda’s online stores this morning shows that he’s got a point. Anyone can look at the minimum wine and lager prices above and see they’re low – but what about vodka? This morning, Tesco was selling its Value Vodka for £8.47 (the equivalent of £12.10 a litre) and Asda’s cheapest – Glen’s Vodka – was £11.97 for a litre bottle. Judging by those prices, the new minimum rate of £10.71 a litre looks like an absolute bargain.

But of course, other factors come into play. Deals like buy-one-get-one-half-price or 20% off could push these cheap tipples below the minimum amount, forcing supermarkets to think seriously about price promotions.

What’s the right price?

But will these limits really affect the retail prices of the alcohol we buy? Not according to Jonathan Mail of Camra, the drinkers’ group:

‘We think the ban will have negligible impact as supermarkets sell only a tiny minority of beer below duty plus VAT,’ he said. ‘The decision means pubs will continue to close as they are undercut by supermarkets selling cans of beer at pocket-money prices.’

So, if these prices aren’t high enough, what would be the right amount? Last year researchers at Sheffield University estimated that raising the price to at least 50p per unit would mean that after a decade there’d be almost 3,000 fewer deaths each year and 41,000 fewer cases of chronic illness.

This approach has been endorsed by health watchdog Nice, and would put the minimum price of a pint of beer closer to £1-£1.50.

Who do you think is right? Should prices be pushed up further or should we continue to be sold booze at rock-bottom prices?


“Minister for crime prevention, James Brokenshire, said: ‘We know that pricing controls can help reduce alcohol-related violent crime and this is a crucial step in tackling the availability of cheap alcohol.’”

Come on! Even after these changes, a litre of cider will still cost a mere 40p. Forty of your English pence. You couldn’t get a can of Diet Coke for that. In fact, you’d probably only get 15 or 20 ‘penny’ sweets for that sum nowadays…

I can see both sides of the ‘nanny state’ debate, but I can’t help thinking that these minimum price levels are so low they’re almost not worth bothering with.

Brian Kidd says:
20 January 2011

This issue in my view has little to do with price.Prices are far too high generally now!

It isn’t public houses selling drinks under price – they are going out of business daily now as we all know!They cannot afford to sell at below cost! It’s all about availability! The big supermarket chains in my experience do not sell to under age people. That leaves the small independent shops that have an alcohol licence who are selling to children on the QT and irresponsible adults who are supplying their off spring with booze. Punish those people that supply alcohol to under age people and people that are already drunk.
I travel to France a great deal and there isn’t an issue in that country.The prices in France are still quite a bit less than in the UK as there is VAT at 19.6% only and no Customs duty. I buy my wine in France – always. Single moult whisky,Gordon’s gin and the like cost significantly less than in the UK – and these products originate in th UK!. Iv’e never seen young people staggering around the streets out of their heads on drinks – even in city centres.

The high price of cigarettes may have put some young people off smoking but it seems to me that more people smoke that cannot really afford them than the people who can. What does that tell you? It’s attitude and availability in my opinion not price.

RichardL says:
19 January 2011

Yes, this measure does not put the price high enough to deter anyone. However, I think that once it is in place it will be a simple measure (not needing a Commons vote) to increase the level to something with more clout.

As a retired Police Officer, I can recall many wasted hours on a Friday and Saturday night dealing with Youngsters, in the main, who had had too much to drink and who had fallen foul of the law. What concerned me was the permanent damage that it has done to their health – all for the cost of getting blotto for the sake of fitting in with their Friends. The cost, even then, in terms of medical facilities required for the less fortunate and the costs of extra police were enormous and the only beneficiary was the Pubs! It is not necessary to be drunk, or drugged, to enjoy life, there are better ways!

FrederickSmith says:
19 January 2011

The biggest problem of binge drinking is the cost and pressure on the NHS and on the police. Step one should be that anyone requiring hospital treatment should have to pay for it. This should also apply to anyone needing treatment for drugs or any other self inflicted injury. The police should also be allowed to fine any drunk/disorderly on the spot as they can do for motoring offences, many of which do not cause expense to the taxpayer.
Step 2 should be the the acceptance of the seller (night clubs) of responsibility for continuing to supply to people who are obviously in the early stages of inebriation.

Roy Carrier says:
19 January 2011

Why penalise the large majority who have no wish to pay inflated prices just because of the anti-social behaviour of a small minority. As in the case of a lot of crimes the victims will be indirectly punished instead of the perpetrators.

It may seem unfair but in reality, alcohol has never been cheaper in relative terms. We might like cheap alcohol, but is that justification for not paying a reasonable price for something that can be beneficial to our health and social wellbeing but also poses significant risks? It isn’t just people who binge drink, drinking above recommended levels puts you at risk of cancer and other health related problems not just associated with alcoholism and what would be viewed as ‘binging’.

Captain Bill Lowe says:
19 January 2011

I agree with your comments the projected increase in alcohol is basically not enough, it has to be sufficient to deter the “animal” factor, which I am pleased to record are in the minority. I live in Scotland and here the “pubs” or better described as “drinking houses” are appaling to say the least, I live in a very small village with one pub and frankly I would not be seen dead in it for it is rumoured that you can get additional kicks if you want from other clientel and I mean drugs!!. Now that is a very dangerous combination, however the drinking habit will only change here if substantial tax not supermarket profits are imposed so they would not be able to consume the quantities they have done in the passed – additionally this cure will still take time – a leopard never changes its spots.!!!!!

The fact is that the majority of A&E units could probably close on a friday or saturday night if it wasn’t for alcohol-related emergencies. The cost to the NHS due to alcohol related issues runs into billions. Imagine the savings that could be made and put into other vital sevices if this changed? There is a real anxiety about the nanny state in this area which on the one hand is understandable, but the fact is that unless there is a MAJOR culture change overnight in terms of our attitudes to responsible drinking (unlikely – see how long it took for smoking to become unfashionable), other methods like raising the price of alcohol (more significantly than the Gvt has just announced) will need to be introduced, as there is proof that raising the cost saves lives. However, the alcohol industry lobby is one of the most powerful I have ever come across in my career so it is a tough fight!

Jeff says:
19 January 2011

While all of the above is highly laudable, the facts will always remain that the richest in society will not be affected by this. (i.e. the people making these decisions).
As stated above by Roy Carrier, this will hit millions who like to have a quiet social drink, especially pensioners having to try and live on a dwindling spending fund with fewer and fewer luxuries as each day passes.
What is needed is to stop the drunks and rowdies in towns and cities. They are the ones that mainly end up in A&E. These people who cause trouble will not be deterred by paying a few quid extra, as when they are drunk on the streets, they will keep drinking and spending until their pockets are empty. Charging more in supermarkets will only have a very limited effect,and I repeat it to make the point, why hit millions who enjoy a quiet social drink?

laurernce miller says:
19 January 2011

Being distrustful of all politicians, particularly when they adopt the ‘holier than thou’ attitrude, I consider this proposal to be merely another stealth tax. Whilst I agree that alcoholism, particularly in the young, appears to be a very serious problem, this proposal will lay the foundation for ever-increasing tax hikes, thus following the invidious principles of the last goverment. Why doesn’t Parliament set an example by charging full prices for supplying booze to its members, even though many of them must need some form of relaxation from the arduous duties they constantly tell us they perform on our behalf?

There is a difference between being merry and being troublesome or violent. The cost of policing and A&E etc. should be borne by those who are drunk and troublesome. An appearance in Court and a bill of a few hundred pounds would be a much greater deterrent than a few pennies on the cost of alcohol which in any case penalises the more sober majority. Is there not a law against being drunk in a public place? Well implement it.

The prices are not high enough.

What really worries me is the reason for binge drinking – there doesn’t really seem to be one.

Many years ago when I was 20 to 21 we used to drink too much too often – but we virtually never got into trouble with police. I can only remember once – because I collapsed by a bus stop and my friend tried to ‘help me on the bus – a policeman decided I shouldn’t go on a bus.

At all other times we were polite but merry on the way home. I get the impression they seem far more unruly.

Colin says:
19 January 2011

This is a pointless move. Those who want to bing drink will always find the money somehow. How else do you explain the fact that it is the poorest in society who smoke the most, despite cigarettes having a massive % of their price as tax.

I agree 100% .

Michael Bird says:
19 January 2011

The shop should be free to charge what it likes for alcohol.
Those who don’t drink sensibly should be fined to cover the cost of their misbehaviour ,plus a profit to help boost the treasury funds.

Teetotaller says:
19 January 2011

The minimum price is low so the drinking population feel this okay. The politicians can say ‘we have done something (and nothing) to keep the electorate happy. The medical and legal professions feel hard done by as not enough of a minimum price.
However in a short while the minimum price will go up gradually and steadily.
Price does have an impact on consumption as shown by its effect on smoking.
It will affect all and not just the bingers. This will have an overall improvement in health for all.

Sadly the poorest in society smoke the most now because they are the least able to fight addiction. They have far too many other battles in their lives and smoking is low in their priority. IMHO.

I enjoy a drink, but I applaud the principle of minimum prices. However, the proposed level is ridiculously low. I had no idea you could buy lager and cider so cheaply. Surely the price for these two should start at £1 with a commitment to further increases in the light of experience.

I McG says:
19 January 2011

Does anyone seriously think that a minimum price will have any effect on people who will go out and spend £80 or so on a pair of jeans with holes in them? They will always manage to get the money somewhere. The only people who will suffer will be the social drinkers and anyone on a fixed income who end up paying, directly and indirectly, for the failure of law and order on the streets and in the courts, lack of discipline in the home and the namby pamby attitude of Government.

Brian Andrews says:
19 January 2011

My personal alcohol consumption is minimal (possibly around three bottles of wine in a full year), so there is little personal impact, however I am firmly opposed to this proposed regulation.

Firstly there are exisiting laws which are not being used. It is already illegal to be ‘drunk and disorderly’ for example, so why is this law seldom if ever enforced? Give anyone found in public in a drunken state a night in the cells, rather than patiently helping them homeward and clearing up their mess, and I suspect that the problem will very quickly dissipate.

Secondly, mandating a minimum price would appear to disadvantage a vast majority who are probably managing their recreational drinking quite satisfactorily. Why should they be penalised for the unfortunate and vulgar antics of a (relatively) few idiots?

Thirdly, any legislation has hidden costs (both financial and logistical), and becomes yet another hoop for our poor over-regulated business folks to have to deal with.

Why does every government, of whatever hue, believe that if in doubt, quickly create a new law? What we need in my opinion is less laws, and better enforcement. There is undoubtedly a problem, but this knee-jerk sillyness is equally certainly not the solution.

The way to stop binge drinking is to charge those who require medical assistance or a police presence the cost of these services they then will not have the money for drink. At the moment the public are paying for the cost of treating them.

No one is suggesting increasing the price of food to solve the nation’s obesity problem which costs the NHS a fortune. Why pick on alcohol?

Alcohol Abuse – as tax payers we all bear the cost of abuse through the NHS and Police. Duty and VAT are irrelevant, the minimum charge should relate to the number of units of the active ingredient in the bottle, alcohol, 10ml being one unit. The proposed minimums work out at unit charges of 8.9p (cider) to 28.6p (whisky and vodka). Start at 50p per unit. Closely monitor its effectiveness each year and increase or decrease by increments of 10p until the desired result is obtained. Legislate to enable punitive fines for retailers that stray.