Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Government consultation on the price of alcohol in England and Wales

At long last, the Government's alcohol strategy consultation is out. The alcohol strategy, published in March 2012, includes a commitment to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol and to consult on the appropriate price. This applies to England and Wales. The Scottish Parliament has already approved legislation for a minimum unit price of 50p, but the Scotch Whisky Association made a court challenge in July, and Bulgaria has indicated that it intends to make a similar challenge under EU competition law. Minimum pricing is already under considation in Northern Ireland. The consultation invites responses on various other proposals, including a ban on multi-buy discounts and making health a licensing objective for responsible authorities.

Medical research has concluded that minimum pricing is the most effective policy to reduce alcohol misuse which is causing serious and rising health problems and strongly implicated in many social problems like domestic violence and child neglect. 

Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches joined with other churches and charities and wrote to the Prime Minister in January 2012, calling on him to ensure that the Government implements minimum pricing without delay. David Cameron supports this policy, but the Cabinet is divided. The initial objective of the Churches' Measure for Measure campaign - to make the case for minimum pricing - was successful, but it is vital that Government act resolutely in the face of strong industry pressure and implement it at an effective price.

Unfortunately, it is a policy that often confuses people. This makes it easy for those with contrary political or economic interests to repeat half-truths or even errors, such as that it is a 'tax', that it will penalise moderate drinkers or that there is no proof it will work. In 2011 our churches produced this FAQ document which answers the most common objections.

With Scotland looking to introduce a 50p minimum price, it would make little sense for England and Wales to set theirs lower. Initial Goverment figures quoted 40p and it is likely that 45p will be the assumed figure in the debate during the consultation period. A unified 50p unit price would spread the health benefits to the whole UK and has been identified as the optimal price for limiting the worst effects of excessively cheap, strong alcohol. It would also remove the incentive to illicit cross-border trade.

We will give further updates when our Churches publish their official response. But if you are concerned about the harm caused by problem drinking, please do take a moment to complete the online consultation form - the deadline is 6 February 2013.