Last July I wrote to the Home Secretary Sajid Javid to ask him to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol. As conference season approaches, I hope all political parties see sense and take steps to ensure that this policy, introduced in Scotland last May, appears explicitly in their manifestos for the next General Election whenever that may be.

As Leicester City Council’s political lead on public health I am committed to supporting people’s recovery from drug or alcohol misuse. For instance (along with Public Health England and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, Lord Willy Bach) the city council has recently invested £600,000 in a new recovery centre. Users of the centre are able to access a range of treatment options, healthcare, support and information on employment, education and training to help them get back on their feet, but of course it would be much better if people didn’t need to access these services, for their own health and well-being and for society at large.

My proposal was backed by the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Leicestershire Partnership Trust, Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service, East Midlands Ambulance Service, NHS Leicester Clinical Commissioning Group, Leicestershire Police and Lord Willy Bach, as well as by voluntary organisations and leading doctors across the city, and you can see why:

  • Alcohol is the most common cause of liver disease in England, which has increased by 400% in the UK since 1970
  • It is the third most common cause of premature death in the UK
  • The total cost to society of harms associated with alcohol is estimated at anything between £21 billion and £52 billion.

At a time of reducing budgets in local government and near-intolerable pressure across the public sector, including the NHS, the importance of using legislation to promote healthy living has never been so pronounced. Leicester City Council alone spends more than £6 million a year on direct support for people with alcohol or substance misuse problems, and across Leicester there were more than 1,200 hospital admissions due to liver disease from 2015-16. A recent review by Public Health England concluded that reducing the affordability of alcohol is the most effective way to reduce the harms to health created by alcohol misuse, including premature death.

Public Health England has estimated that over 20 years, a 50p minimum unit price per unit of alcohol could reduce healthcare costs by £1.3 billion.

Targeting those consuming harmful amounts of alcohol is key, as currently about four per cent of the population are drinking just under a third of all the alcohol consumed in the country. A minimum unit price of 50p per unit would reduce alcohol consumption among some of the most vulnerable, without having a significant impact on moderate drinkers.

So, as I await my response from Mr. Javid, I hope that others consider raising the profile of this simple intervention to help address one of today’s greatest public health challenges.

Written by Councillor Adam Clarke, Leicester’s Deputy City Mayor with responsibility for the environment, health and health integration.

All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.