New research commissioned by the Government as part of its consultation on the Alcohol Strategy confirms that minimum unit pricing (MUP) is far more effective at tackling harm than banning ‘below cost sales’ of alcohol. However, today the Home Office has chosen to ignore this evidence and abandon MUP in favour of the least effective option.
The report on the impacts of alcohol pricing policies was published today by the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group in the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR). It shows that a 45p MUP – initially mooted by the Home Office – will have a 40 to 50 times larger effect on consumption than banning below-cost sales.
ScHARR’s updated modelling data provide a comprehensive breakdown of the estimated consumption, financial, health and crime effects of a ban on below cost sales compared to a minimum unit price of 45p and 50p in England, a summary of which can be found in the table below:
Source: Sheffield Alcohol Research Group School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, July 2013
The report also finds that in England:
- A ban on below cost sales will have a negligible effect on the annual number of units consumed by even harmful drinkers (a reduction of 0.03% for moderate drinkers and 0.08% or 3 units for harmful drinkers)
- This pales in comparison with annual reductions made at a minimum price of 45p/unit (-0.6% for moderate drinkers, and 3.7% or 137 units per harmful drinker) and 50p/unit (-2.7% moderate drinkers; 200 units/drinker at harmful levels)
- A ban on below cost sales will reduce 14 alcohol-related deaths in the general population in Year 10 of its introduction; 11 of those will be harmful drinkers. At a minimum price of 45p/unit, 624 lives will be saved (554 harmful drinkers). At 50p/unit, 960 lives will be saved (812 harmful drinkers)
Despite being in possession of this new research, the Government today announced that it will not be taking forward proposals to introduce MUP at this time, but it would be legislating to ban sales below the cost of duty plus VAT.
In its response to the public consultation on the Government’s Alcohol Strategy, the Home Secretary Theresa May states:
“[The consultation] has not provided evidence that conclusively demonstrates that Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) will actually do what it is meant to: reduce problem drinking without penalising all those who drink responsibly”.
Katherine Brown, Director of Policy at the Institute of Alcohol Studies says:
To say that there is not enough evidence to support minimum pricing, but go ahead and introduce a ban on below cost sales, is ludicrous. The Government-commissioned Sheffield research does exactly what Theresa May says it doesn’t – it demonstrates clearly that minimum pricing will target the heaviest drinkers and will have a far greater impact on health and social outcomes than a ban on below cost sales.
We have a situation where the Government was presented with two policy options – one which works and one which doesn’t. They’ve chosen to ignore all the evidence and go with the latter, at the enormous expense of public health.
The only explanation for such an alarming decision must be intense pressure from the global alcohol producers, who we know have been out in force lobbying against MUP. Ultimately, they are never going to support a measure that impacts their bottom line. But with alcohol harm costing Britain more than £25bn each year, we need a Government that is going to protect the public purse.