New figures from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) show that supermarket beer is almost 188% more affordable today than it was thirty years ago, and that its affordability has risen by 22% since 2012. The analysis comes as peers prepare to debate minimum unit pricing – a policy to regulate these low prices – in a sitting of the House of Lords on Wednesday.

The IAS research is the first to compare affordability in the off-trade (supermarkets and off-licences) to the on-trade (pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants) using data up to 2016. Using an affordability index adjusting prices for inflation and income growth, the study shows a widening gulf between pubs and supermarkets. It finds that:

  • Off-trade beer is 188% more affordable than in 1987, compared to 31% for on-trade beer
  • Off-trade wine and spirits are 131% more affordable than in 1987, compared to 34% for on-trade wine and spirits

Recent increases in affordability – with off-trade beer rising 22% and off-trade wine and spirits rising 14% since 2012 – are attributed to alcohol tax cuts. However, these appear to have done little to support pubs, with beer affordability rising 5% in the on-trade, and wine and spirits affordability rising by just 1% in the on-trade.

Katherine Brown, Chief Executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said:

Evidence shows that as alcohol becomes more affordable, communities experience greater levels of harm. In England cheap alcohol is creating a huge burden on our NHS, police and public services with more than 1.2 million hospital admissions and one million crimes related to alcohol each year. These findings strengthen the case for minimum unit pricing, which would target the cheapest alcohol drunk by those causing damage to themselves and others without affecting the cost of a pint down the pub.

Lord Rennard, who is to ask a question on minimum unit pricing in the House of Lords, said:

The figures show that alcohol has effectively got much cheaper to buy. There are real dangers that cheap alcohol can ruin people’s lives and cause great harm to others. That is why I will be asking the Government to follow what is happening in the rest of the UK. It should bring in minimum unit pricing in England in order to save lives and to reduce the burden on our hospitals and police forces.

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) will come into force in Scotland on 1st May this year. This policy will set a floor price of 50p per unit, below which alcohol cannot be sold. In England, MUP is estimated to prevent 525 deaths and 22,000 hospital admissions each year. The measure will be considered by the House of Lords on Wednesday, when the Government responds to an oral question from Lord Rennard regarding the potential savings to the NHS and police services of introducing a minimum unit price.

You can listen to report author Aveek explain the findings on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s talkRADIO show (embed below).