Cheap alcohol sales prompt calls for minimum pricing

Cans of lager on sale A six pack of lager would cost at least £6 if a 50p minimum unit price was brought in

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Calls for a minimum price for alcohol are intensifying as ministers prepare to outline the latest steps to make drinking less affordable.

Plans to introduce a hike in the tax on super-strength lagers are expected to be confirmed in this week's Budget.

But shadow public health minister Diane Abbott said the government should go further and explore minimum pricing.

She was supported by campaigners as they revealed data showing alcohol was being sold for as little as 12p a unit.

The Budget announcement on strong lagers comes after proposals have been drawn up to ban the sale of below-cost alcohol - that is where drinks are sold at below the combined cost of the duty and VAT.

Campaigners have argued that neither step goes far enough as only a small proportion of drinks will be affected.

'Unanswerable'

Instead, they want to see an minimum unit price around the 50p mark - which would mean drinkers having to pay at least £6 for a six-pack of lager and £4.50 for a standard bottle of wine.

Their calls have been backed by Ms Abbott.

Before the election, Labour refused to give its backing to minimum pricing.

Start Quote

Alcohol needs to be retailed at a price which recognises that it is no ordinary commodity and can be harmful”

End Quote Don Shenker Alcohol Concern

But Ms Abbott told the BBC if a pilot showed it would reduce alcohol-related harm she would be in favour of the move.

"It is wrong that very young children can get out of their skulls for less money than it takes to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola.

"I would be in favour of a pilot and if that reduces drinking significantly, particularly among young people, the case is unanswerable. I would like to see legislation then."

She was supported by a coalition of health groups, including Alcohol Concern and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems.

They have carried out research covering more than 600 alcohol products in the north of England and Scotland. The cheapest they found on sale was a bottle of cider at the equivalent of 12p per unit, they said.

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said the sale of alcohol at "pocket money prices" had to end.

"Alcohol needs to be retailed at a price which recognises that it is no ordinary commodity and can be harmful."

A government spokesman said: "The government has taken the important first step to ban below cost sales and introduce a higher tax on high strength beers. This will enable us to tackle the very worst instances of deep discounting while being easily implemented and enforced.

"We have sent a clear message that the government will not stand by and let drink be sold so cheaply that it leads to a greater risk of health harms or drunken violence.

"The impact of alcohol prices on public health and crime and disorder is complex.

"No one solution will solve the challenge of alcohol misuse but we are determined to tackle the harms caused by alcohol and have brought forward a comprehensive package of measures to address this, including a complete overhaul of the failed Licensing Act."

A Home Office spokesman said the steps to tackle super-strength lagers and below cost selling would deal with the "very worst instances of deep discounting while being easily implemented and enforced".

He added: "We have sent a clear message that the government will not stand by and let drink be sold so cheaply that it leads to a greater risk of health harms or drunken violence."

But he rejected the suggestions a minimum price was the answer, saying the impact of cost was complex and no one solution would solve the problem.

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