18 Jan 2011

Booze Britain: cheap alcohol ban planned

The Government has announced plans to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price in a bid to tackle Britain’s drinking problem – but campaigners say it is not enough.

The Coalition has banned sales of cheap alcohol to try and cut alcohol-related crime and disorder, which costs the taxpayer up to £13bn annually.

Pubs and supermarkets will have to sell alcohol for more than “cost price”, which the Government has defined as duty plus VAT, meaning a can of lager must cost at least 38p, a litre of vodka at least £10.71, and a bottle of wine would cost no less than £2.03.

“We know that pricing controls can help reduce alcohol-related violent crime and this is a crucial step in tackling the availability of cheap alcohol,” James Brokenshire, minister for crime prevention, said in a statement.

“By introducing this new measure we are sending 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.”

“In nearly half of all violent incidents the offender is believed to be under the influence of alcohol.

“That’s why we believe it is right to tackle the worst instances of deep discounting.”

However, the move does not go as far as setting a “minimum price” for alcohol, as has been discussed in Scotland, and doctors and charities have warned that it will have little impact, particularly as it is unlikely to have much of an impact on cheap supermarket deals.

The three biggest supermarkets in the UK all currently offer cans of lager which are below the cost price.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda all stock an own-brand lager, around 2 per cent in strength, at between 23-25p per can; around £15p less than the new bottom price. Asda sells a bottle of wine for £2, 3p less than the new bottom price.

Government plans ban on cheap alcohol sales (Getty)

But none sell a litre of vodka for less than £10.71; the cheapest is over £11.

In 2009, the Tories set out plans to increase taxes on super-strength beer, cider and alcopops, with then Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, saying that the cost of a four-pack of high-strength lager would rise by £1.33 and a large bottle of alcopop would cost £1.50 more.

At the time he said: “The ordinary pint in the pub will not be affected and there’ll be exemptions for some local traditional products. But we’ll call time on the drinks that fuel antisocial behaviour.”

Mr Grayling also announced his intention to ban supermarkets from selling alcohol at below cost price, but other charities and medical associations have said that the latter is the less effective of the two proposals.

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said: “It is not minimum pricing, it’s not really going to make that much difference. What we’re calling for is tough action.”

This plan will not go any way towards resolving this country’s binge drinking problem. Don Shenker, Alcohol Concern Chief Executive

Don Shenker, Alcohol Concern Chief Executive, also said the plans will not “go any way towards resolving this country’s binge drinking problem”.

He said: “Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law. The Government needs to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol. That is the only evidence-based approach that will end cheap discounts once and for all”.

The ban was left out of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill in November, which covered licensing laws. It is understood that defining “cost price” as anything other than duty plus VAT would have created legal problems.

Other charities warned that price was not the only factor in alcoholism.

Drinkaware‘s Chief Executive Chris Sorek said: “As supply and price are not the only factors driving alcohol misuse, it is imperative that we challenge people’s relationship with alcohol as well.”

The Core Cities group – which represents health professionals working in England’s eight biggest cities outside London – looked at the prices of a number of drinks over the past three weeks.

Cider was available in city centre supermarkets and off-licences for as little as 10p a unit, while lager could be bought for little more than 26p a pint.

The pricing means a woman could drink more than her daily recommended allowance for just 30p – half the price of a standard bar of chocolate.

Deborah Evans, chairwoman of the Core Cities Health Improvement Collaborative which carried out the research, said: “Despite inflation, increases in duty on alcohol and commitments to curb below-cost selling, we have seen the price of the cheapest alcohol largely unaffected over the past 12 months.

“As a result, young men and women can still buy their maximum recommended weekly allowance of alcohol for the price of a small latte or a cheap magazine.

“Meanwhile, the true cost of alcohol is picked up by taxpayers in the form of soaring hospital admissions, crime and anti-social behaviour.”

Ms Evans added: “Despite all the encouraging noises we’ve heard in the past 12 months about tackling the damage caused by cheap booze, the grand talk in Parliament has had no effect on prices being paid at the checkout.

“In the meantime, we have seen the drinks industry’s willingness to absorb rises in duty on behalf of its customers, while supermarkets claim that it is responsible to sell alcohol for just the amount they owe the taxman.

“The time for tough talking is over; what we need now is strong and decisive action if we have any hope of tackling the plague of illness and injury caused by selling alcohol more cheaply than water.”


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