/ 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?

Comments

More nonsense from the Government. This is the easy way out and it raises revenue

I believe a key issue is the way that alcohol is promoted by manufacturers/retailers and presented by the media.

Better education about health & self respect would also help hugely.

Dave P says:
19 January 2011

The discussion thread seems to have ignored the really important point made by the guy from CAMRA. The government should be encouraging responsible drinking in well managed public houses. At the moment supermarkets drastically undercut pub prices with loss leader alcohol sales resulting in binge drinkers hitting the town centre already drunk. Minimum prices for alcohol should be pitched at a level that has no effect on pub prices, but will stop the supermarkets undercutting pubs and facilitating this binge drinking. Drinking in a well managed pub is surely preferable to unregulated environment, but if the present trend in pub closures continues there won’t be any pubs left to provide this vital social service.

As readers will see from a later comment, I believe the issue is not alcohol but people taking responsibility for their own behaviour, with or without alcohol. However, I have some sympathy with Dave P’s comment, but many people in rural settlements have long lost their pub and there are many who enjoy an occasional drink who have personal mobility problems or no transport to get to a pub. Another factor is that many so called “up market” pubs charge extortionate prices for drinks (over £4 for a pint of beer) which is unaffordable for many. An “up market” pub may be the only pub in a village.

It is simply inappropriate that law abiding imbibers are effectively punished for the disorder caused by the irresponsible. If the Consumers’ Association can campaign to ensure that there is fair pricing for consumers of alcohol that would get my support, but is a very different issue.

Martin Scherer says:
19 January 2011

No I do not agree with minimum alcohol pricing.

I think the tax on alcohol should be substantially increased, and the amount dependent on the place of consumption. In the following order of by highest tax firswt

1. Where alcohol is purchased but not consumed. In other words supermarkets, shops, off licences
2. Where alcohol is purchased alone or with snacks like crisps. Pubs
3. Where alcohol is purchased in conjunction with food – Restaruants or with pub meals.

Think it out and you will see that will serve to benefit society in many ways.

The full social costs of alcohol should be born by its sale.

A small amount of alcohol, preferrably with a meal is good for you.

Large amounts of alcohol are very damaging to both individual and society, far more damaging than nicotine which is banned in public places and most work context, and far mo0re damaqging than cannabis which is illegal.

Alcohol consumption in the home increases abuse and gives the wrong social training to children.

Simple.

The root cause is people failing to take responsibility for their own behaviour and causing public disorder whether with alcohol or without. An adequate deterrent needs to be devised by the Justice Department to dissuade people from engaging in alcohol fuelled public disorder (as well as any other disorder). I support a previous contributor’s view that where police or the NHS are needed in these circumstances, there should be a punitive and escalating fine for subsequent offences plus a contribution to the NHS and local police force when a successful prosecution follows. For those unwilling or unable to reform, weekend prison seems appropriate as in NL.

Introducing a minimum price for alcohol will punish the law abaiding disabled, pensioners and other impoverished people and is already a cause of social exclusion, where many pensioners can no longer afford to have a social drink in their pub as it is too expensive. With the shift from RPI to CPI together with rising inflation, there will be many more of these.

The government really must address the root cause, which is people unwilling to take responsibility for their own behaviour in the absence of an effective deterrent. I passionately believe that the law abiding and responsible imbiber should be spared. It is like punishment without trial for them.

Josie Wait says:
19 January 2011

What a waste of time and money. Those who set out to binge will never be detered by pricing. It would be a far better move to train bar staff when to stop serving and if they don’t then the pubs/clubs should be fined or their licences revoked. May be wardens patrolling the pubs/clubs would be a better way of spending the money.

Tony Halliwell says:
20 January 2011

I am in favour of a minimum price of alcohol in line with the recommendations of the medical authorities. I do not understand why the government does not follow this advice.

steph says:
20 January 2011

I am a pub manager myself, I have seen many of my collegues loose their jobs recently….as pubs all over the country gradually close their doors whilst supermarkets make record profits.
More and more people are drinking at home in an uncontroled environment where no one is watching the levels of alcohol consumption, then hitting the towns after and causing mayhem! Pubs and clubs all over the country loose their licenses everyday for getting people too drunk but what happens to the supermarkets?? Do their responsabilities lie with the sale and thats it?! I think this pricing is a small step in the right direction but is not going to be a deterant.

Minimum pricing will have no effect at all on those who are determined to drink to excess. It is a well known fact that such people will find the extra money somehow, often at the expense of their families who will then suffer even more deprivation. Problem drinkers will go without food and clothes before they will go without alcohol.

It has to be said that for the overwhelming majority of people still who go out on Friday and Saturday nights and get drunk manage to stay out of any kind of trouble so we are talking about a minority but a significant minority at that. However, according to Drinkaware binge drinking for men is more than eight units of alcohol – or about three pints of strong beer. For women, it’s drinking more than six units of alcohol, equivalent to two large glasses of wine. That classifies a lot of people as binge drinkers so, firstly, maybe we ought to define the meaning of binge drinking before accepting it’s the major problem that the media leads us to believe it is.

But, for those who become drunk and disorderly, we do need to establish root causes because I don’t think the availability of cheap booze is the cause of the problem. I don’t know anyone who goes into town because they think it’s cheap – it most certainly not. And those minimum prices won’t affect many and certainly not the majority of responsible drinkers because, let’s face it, how many responsible drinkers purchase Tesco Value vodka?!

But I’m not sure we do understand the root cause. We need to understand why a significant minority of people allow themselves to get into a state where they can’t, or perhaps, don’t want to take responsibility. I’m not providing any excuses but is it because life is quite tough for a lot of people? People are fed up and many just want to enjoy themselves and switch off. In a way, they’re rebelling against a nanny state where people are constantly dictated on what they can or cannot do. Successive governments have squeezed the fun out of life. This would explain why most city centres are busy at weekends – and statistically, you will get a number of people, fuelled with alcohol, who want to cause trouble.

Also, why is our approach to drink different to some (but not all – try a trip to Scandinavia or Ireland to understand real alcohol problems) of our continental neighbours? Have some of the parents of today’s teenagers who grew up in the 70s and 80s neglected to teach their children how to take responsibility for their actions? That may be where you start to tackle the problem of teenage binge drinking and may be more effective than imposing a stealth tax as a reaction.

I dont believe a minmum price will have much effct in reducing binge or under-age drinking. The big difference between ow and “the old days” is the number of sites sellin alcohol;we need tighter licensing of thwese, whatever vendors say about their dependence on alcohiol sales.

JOHNNY says:
20 January 2011

what a waste of time and money this goig to be

Valerie Page says:
20 January 2011

If the government wants to increase the cost of alchol it should increase the duty rate then we can all decide whether the pleasure is worth the cost.
Otherwise let us all decide for ourselves whether we wish to ruin our livers
As a grown-up who has earned my own living for over 40 years and never claimed benefit I am outraged at this overbearing attitude my our government

Rebecca says:
20 January 2011

Yes there should be a minimum price for alcohol. This is too big of a problem in Britain. It is no longer a personal lifestyle issue. It affects the country’s health service, it affects the next generation, and even the workplace. Where else in the world will you find so many throw-ups on the street after Friday/Saturday??

We should tax all alcoholic items. The money should go towards NHS to support health service.

simon price says:
20 January 2011

Sensible public health policy. Like the smoking ban why have we waited so long?

I agree strongly that we should have a minimum price per unit for alcohol, and the government has picked a price that is far too low.
The research suggests 50p per unit and I would agree with that – it won’t affect the price of a drink in the pub (not any pub I’ve met anyway) nor the price of decent bottle of wine or beer.
According to The Big Issue, cheap super-strength beers and ciders are a major problem for homeless people, and many are literally drinking themselves to death.
The higher floor price would also save pubs – important in our culture, reduce alcohol-fueled violence and encourage alcohol producers to provide lower-strength drinks.
Government decisions are supposed to be led by facts and science and here as usual they have fudged their response.
One thought – if the Treasury really wants to tie the minimum price to numbers set by the government, why not 2 x (duty + vat) which would give 42p per unit – a reasonable compromise that would have some effect.

I would love to know the basis of the research which says putting prices up will curtail binge drinking. In my opinion this is a fallacy. France has much lower alcohol prices and no such problems. The reasons for the problems in Britain are cultural and deep rooted. We have been a nation of heavy drinkers for millennia, only a change in culture and an vast improvement in the parenting skills of the nation, as well as a reduction in the levels of stress in the modern workplace will bring about any change.

Actually France does have problems with alcohol abuse – but not the violence that we seem to have. But we have always had drunken brawls – I wonder if this is because the French tend ti drink and eat. The minimum price is too low to have any effect – I would welcome the idea of differential prices to penalise the supermarkets.

My local Sainsburys has a larger display of alcohol than any other product and local pubs going out of business.

Certainly the change in opening hours has not curbed binge drinking – but has altered the way drinking places close so instead of the police having to deal with all the drunks at once the drunks are now spread out and are easier to deal with.

j humphries says:
21 January 2011

I do not think there is a minimum price level. But I believe if you dropped back on the opening hours of any establishment selling alcohol plus the early drinker offers in these bars that would help somewhat. Unfortunately the habit has become too well established for drinking yourself under the table, this being a competition among many younger people.

Further more it seems once again the many have to pay THE PRICE FOR THE FEW.

bernard says:
21 January 2011

higher prices will only lead to more theft and cadgung and robbery……all for the money.

Try education and activity

Hi.

We are missing the point altogether. It is all due to a failure of education–lack of good manners and self-discipline. One has no more business being drunk or unseemly walking the streets than behind the wheel of a car.

May I point out this is not in the remit of formal education – but should be in the remit of parental control and transfer of their moral behaviour. Many parents do not care what their children do,

At no time has drinking been a part of general education – the vast majority of the school social education has concentrated on sex education.

Another cop out on policing and application of the law. Build more prisons & lock up the troublemakers !! What next; minimum priciing of bacon, cheese & ice-cream to deter obesity ?