Minimum alcohol price levels planned by coalition

Lager and cider on sale The lowest price payable for beer would be 21p per unit

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Ministers have unveiled plans to set a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales.

They say banning shops and bars from selling drinks for less than the tax paid on them will cut crime and set a "base price" for the first time.

It works out at 38p for a can of weak lager and £10.71 for a litre of vodka.

Health campaigners say that is too low to have an impact, but the drinks industry described the proposals as a "pragmatic solution".

In their coalition agreement, the Conservatives and Lib Dems pledged: "We will ban the sale of alcohol below cost price."

Under government proposals the ban is on sales of alcohol below the rate of duty plus VAT, rather than including the cost of producing the drinks.

Home Office Minister James Brokenshire told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "Duty plus VAT is a basic definition of what the cost of those products are and we wanted something that was workable and that was actually compliant with competition law as well, so it could be introduced."

Mr Brokenshire said the plans for England and Wales would have an impact, citing Home Office modelling which suggested the new "floor" on alcohol price would prevent around 7,000 crimes a year - 2,000 of them violent and target products associated with problem drinking.

The policy was "an important first step," he said, adding the government would keep the policy under review: "This is not the end of this."

"I think it's very clear that we are actually setting a base price for the first time in this country - it won't be possible to sell alcohol below duty plus VAT and that does provide that floor."

Infographic showing minimum prices for some alcoholic drinks

But Professor Ian Gilmore, of the Royal College of Physicians, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's a step in the right direction but I have to say, it's an extremely small step. It will have no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of cheap drinks sold in supermarkets."

Local shopkeepers questioned by the BBC News website said the government's proposed minimum prices were far below what they had to charge.

Researchers at Sheffield University estimated last year that raising the price of alcohol to a minimum of 50p per unit would mean that after a decade there would be almost 3,000 fewer deaths every year and 41,000 fewer cases of chronic illness.

Prof Gilmore said a tiny amount of drinks were currently sold below duty plus VAT, but added that if the argument was being accepted that cheap drinks were fuelling alcohol problems the minimum might be "eased up in the right direction".

In practice, he said, the proposals would have "no effect at all on the health of this nation".

The British Medical Association said the proposals would not make much difference and Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, urged ministers to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol: "Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law."

Brigid Simmonds of the British Beer and Pub Association said it would make little difference

A 50p-per-unit minimum was backed by health campaigners but the Home Office proposal is for a lower minimum price of about 21p per unit of beer and 28p per unit of spirits.

It means the lowest possible price of a can of lager would range from 38p to 78p depending on its strength, but most drinks would be unaffected.

Moderate drinkers

Mr Brokenshire said the government had targeted "deep discounting" of alcohol, arguing that minimum unit pricing "effectively penalises everybody rather than being focused on either those products or people who may be consuming alcohol in a way that is harmful to society."

Gavin Partingdon, of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said the proposals were a "pragmatic solution" which addressed some of the concerns about cheap alcohol without affecting moderate drinkers.

He said they would stop retailers selling below cost price, although he accepted the amount of alcohol sold at below the level of duty and VAT was "fairly minimal".

SHOPKEEPERS' VIEW

Arora Avtar, shop owner, west London

"What lager is 38p? A bottle of vodka is £10 from the cash and carry anyway.

"I have to allow for my 10 to 15% margin so how can we charge less?

"The lowest price I can charge for lager is 89p for a can."

Sujaja Shah, of family-run AB wines, west London

"We can't loss lead - we'd go out of business. [Supermarkets] can buy in bulk.

"If the government wants to make an impact on drinking perhaps it should remove licences from supermarkets."

He said the 50p per unit minimum backed by campaigners went "way beyond what really the ordinary public want to pay" adding: "Those who have the most problem with alcohol are least likely to be deterred by price increases."

Richard Taylor, director of corporate affairs at Morrisons supermarket chain, told the BBC the proposals provided the government with "a guaranteed lever which it can use to set a floor price for alcohol".

He added: "For the first time, if a chancellor raises duty as he may well do at the next Budget, then that would require all of that duty to be passed on to the customer in a way in which previously - potentially - some retailers may have absorbed that cost."

Drinks giant Diageo said the government should "concentrate on raising awareness of the dangers of alcohol misuse" and on enforcing existing licensing laws.

Last year, the Scottish Parliament rejected plans for a minimum price per unit of alcohol of 45p, amid claims it would penalise responsible drinkers and could be illegal under European competition law.

BBC News website readers have emailed their reaction to the government's plans. Here is a selection of comments:

Having witnessed problem drinkers below the poverty line drinking hand wash on the front doors of hospitals due to its alcohol content, I feel the repercussions of this are clearly not being considered. Those who can afford to drink will still consume the same, and those who cannot afford it will simply resort to other measures. Unregulated home made moonshine will not help the figures concerned with illness and death. Make no mistake, those who suffer from alcoholism will still find ways of getting inebriated regardless of the health risks.

Irvine, Glasgow

Troublesome binge drinking does not occur in living rooms around the country. It happens in the clubs and bars usually at weekends and then spills over onto the streets. So why is there such a song and dance about cheap booze from supermarkets? Most of this is bought for social drinking at home. This is purely and simply a tax raising measure dressed up as a health initiative. If the government were really serious about binge drinking, most of which is done by young people then raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 or better still 25.

Dave Harrison, Chester-le-Street

I've already consulted an expert in this field - my eldest son. He informs me that should the price per drink rise to an unsustainable level of affordability, serious bingers will simply "fill up" on cheaper alcohol at someone's house prior to going out - the same effect and probably cheaper. He added that should the cost of drink purchased at shops become too expensive, it would simply lead to home brewing on a massive scale.

Jim Green, Whitley Bay

I am a teacher of teenagers. This is an excellent idea but this must include cider. We cannot allow one group of drinkers to dictate that cider be exempt from this ruling as it has alcohol in it AND strong cider has the same affect as lager. This is a social responsibility and not just a personal one. On top of this, what happened to the police raids on pubs and clubs to check legal ages? They should take some teachers out to identify the kids!! The local paper has a section where they photograph people in a pub, circle one and they've won a crate of lager. Quite a few times some of our kids have been grinning back from the pages!

S Bryant, Lancashire

As a student I don't think this is going to make a big impact on student drinking. Drunkenness is perceived as cool and getting drunk is the done thing. In conditions like these students are still going to buy alcohol no matter how much it costs.

Lucie, Sheffield

It's not the price of drink that's the problem - it's the social culture. I lived in Spain for a number of years where the price of drink is generally a lot less than the UK, but they have nowhere near as many problems of anti-social behaviour! Drink is a big part of their culture but they don't drink to excess, as they do here. Tackle the social problems and you will tackle a lot of the drink problems.

Duncan Boyle, Callander, Scotland

There is one simple answer to reduce alcohol abuse. As well as setting a minimum price level stop the issue of alcohol licences to corner shops which are open all hours and stop selling alcohol after 10pm in pubs and other outlets. It is obvious that since pub opening times have been extended alcohol related problems have increased ten-fold.

George Duguid, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

I am sick of this. I do not start fights, I do not smash things up, and I work hard despite seeing my real wage decreasing. Why doesn't the government lock up the offenders instead of pricing decent people out of having a drink?

James, London

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