The coalition unveils controversial plans to tackle “drunken mayhem” on Britain’s streets by introducing a higher-than-expected minimum alcohol price of 45p per unit.
Multi-buy deals in supermarkets and off-licences could also be banned, under proposals being put out for consultation. Home Secretary Theresa May is outlining the package in an effort to “turn the tide” on a culture of irresponsible drinking estimated to cost the taxpayer £21bn annually.
More than a million crimes and 1.2m hospital admissions were linked to alcohol last year. Officials said it was currently possible to buy a can of lager for as little as 20p, and a two litre bottle of cider for £1.69.
The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), made up of 32 medical and counselling organisations, welcomed the step. But Chairman Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said the minimum unit price should be 50p rather than 45p.
“The evidence shows us that heavy drinkers and young drinkers are more affected by higher alcohol prices than moderate drinkers,” he said.
“According to the University of Sheffield, a minimum unit price of 50p would reduce total alcohol consumption by 6.7 per cent, saving around 20,000 hospital admissions in the first year.”
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However, the drinks industry warned that the 45p threshold would hit modest consumers hard, without addressing the underlying problems. Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, said: “While the government may be consulting on 45p consumers should be aware that the final minimum unit price could be much higher than that.
“In the spring we were told it would be 40p, it’s already 45p, we know that health groups are calling for a price of at least 50p and the Scottish government has already proposed a 50p minimum unit price.
“The impact at 50p would see 65 per cent of prices in supermarkets and off-licences rise with a bottle of vodka increasing in price from £9 to £13.13.”
Home Office officials insisted the consultation was targeted at “harmful drinkers, problems pubs and irresponsible shops”.
“Those who enjoy a quiet drink or two have nothing to fear from our proposals.”
Legal proceedings challenging the Scottish minimum price are currently suspended while a large amount of newly submitted evidence is considered. They are expected to resume in the new year.