Campaigning for a minimum unit price for alcohol

The Alcohol Health Alliance is calling for a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol across the UK, to save lives, cut crime, save money and reduce pressure on our NHS and emergency services.

Following implementation of MUP in Scotland on 1st May 2018, we are calling for the Westminster government to introduce the measure in England without delay. With Wales and the Republic of Ireland legislating for MUP, and Northern Ireland committed to introducing the measure, it is vital that England does not get left behind.

What is the problem?

Alcohol is being sold at pocket money prices up and down the UK. The affordability of supermarket beer has gone up 188% since 1987; for wine and spirits the figure is 131%.[1] Supermarket own-brand vodkas and high-strength ciders are typically the cheapest on offer. For example, a recent AHA review of prices found 3-litre bottles of 7.5% ABV cider, which contain the same amount of alcohol as 22 shots of vodka, being sold for just £3.59, or 16p per unit.[2]

The cheaper alcohol is, the more people drink, and the more alcohol-related harm is done. Recent trends in alcohol-related harm are worrying – in England over the last decade, alcohol-related hospital admissions have increased by 64%, and the number of people diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer has gone up by 8%.[3]

In addition, 4 in 10 victims of violent crime report that their assailant was under the influence of alcohol[4], and 3 in 10 domestic abuse cases reported to the police involve alcohol.[5] 51% of incidents of stranger violence are alcohol-related[6], and the police say they spend over half of their time dealing with alcohol-related incidents.[7]

What is minimum unit pricing?

Minimum unit pricing sets a floor price below which a unit of alcohol cannot be sold. We are calling for this floor price to be set at 50p initially in England, in line with Scotland, alongside a mechanism to regularly review this price to ensure it remains effective. With a 50p minimum unit price, a pint of beer containing 2 units has to be sold for at least £1, and a bottle of wine containing 9 units has to be sold for at least £4.50.

By setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, MUP selectively raises the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol products which tend to be consumed by those who experience the worst alcohol-related harms. At the same time, MUP leaves the price of most drinks, including those served in bars and restaurants, unaffected.

Minimum unit pricing has been consistently identified as one of the most effective and cost-effective measures to reduce alcohol harm, including in a comprehensive review of alcohol polices published recently by Public Health England.[8] There is widespread support among alcohol health experts, health bodies and campaigners for minimum pricing, and the AHA has found majority support for MUP in our public polling.

What is the expected impact of MUP on alcohol-related harm?

The University of Sheffield has estimated[9] that in the first year alone, MUP set at the 50p level in Scotland will lead to:

  • 60 fewer deaths
  • 1,600 fewer hospital admissions
  • 3,500 fewer crimes.

According to estimates for England, a 50p MUP would save 525 lives and prevent 22,000 hospital admissions every year.[10] It is also estimated to prevent an estimated 670 deaths from alcohol-related cancer over 20 years.[11]

In terms of benefits to society, a 50p MUP in England is estimated to lead to 36,500 fewer crimes every year[12]. MUP will also lead to an estimated 156,000 fewer days absent from work each year in England[13], and result in savings to society of £7 billion in the first 20 years in England.[14]

Importantly, the poorest stand to benefit the most. Studies have estimated that 82% of the reductions in premature deaths, and 87% of the gains in terms of quality of life improvements, would come from the lowest income brackets.[15]

Under MUP, will people have to spend a lot more on alcohol?

As most drinks would be left untouched by MUP, moderate drinkers would barely notice the difference in terms of their spending. Moderate drinkers in England currently buy fewer than two units of alcohol a week for less than 50p a unit, and research suggests that, under a 50p MUP, moderate drinkers would spend just £2.25 extra a year on alcohol, with harmful drinkers who consume more cheap alcohol spending an average of £11.78 more per year.[16]

What is happening in Scotland?

Minimum unit pricing was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012, but implementation was delayed due to a legal challenge from the alcohol industry. In November 2017, the UK Supreme Court unanimously judged that MUP is legal and can go ahead in Scotland. MUP was implemented in Scotland on 1st May 2018.

What about the rest of the UK?

In Westminster, minimum unit pricing was included in the coalition government’s alcohol strategy in 2012, but it has yet to be implemented. There should be no further delay in implementing the measure, however – the evidence is already clear that minimum unit pricing would significantly reduce alcohol-related harm.

In Wales, the government wishes to implement minimum unit pricing and is currently in the process of passing legislation for MUP. The Northern Ireland government has the powers to introduce MUP, and the previous administration expressed its intention to do so.

[1] Institute of Alcohol Studies (2018). Briefing: The rising affordability of alcohol. Available at http://www.ias.org.uk/uploads/pdf/IAS%20reports/sb20022018.pdf

[2] Alcohol Health Alliance (2016). Cheap Alcohol: the price we pay. Available at http://12coez15v41j2cf7acjzaodh.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/AHA-price-survey_FINAL.pdf

[3] Public Health England. Local Alcohol Profiles for England. Avaiable at https://fingertips.phe.org.uk/profile/local-alcohol-profiles

[4] Office for National Statistics (2017). Crime Survey for England and Wales (2017) – Nature of crime tables: violence, year ending March 2015. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/datasets/natureofcrimetablesviolence 

[5] Same as above

[6] Same as above

[7] Institute of Alcohol Studies (2015). Alcohol’s impact on emergency services. Available at http://www.ias.org.uk/uploads/Alcohols_impact_on_emergency_services_full_report.pdf

[8] Public Health England (2016). The Public Health Burden of Alcohol and the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies. An evidence review. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/583047/alcohol_public_health_burden_evidence_review.pdf

[9] Meng Y., et al (2012). Model-based appraisal of alcohol minimum pricing and off-licensed trade discount bans in Scotland using the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model (v 2): Second update based on newly available data. Sheffield: University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research. Available at www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.156503!/file/scotlandjan.pdf

[10] Angus, C. et. al. (2016). Alcohol and cancer trends: Intervention Studies. University of Sheffield and Cancer Research UK. Available at https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/alcohol_and_cancer_trends_report_cruk.pdf

[11] Same as above

[12] Holmes, J. et. al. (2014). Effects of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on different income and socioeconomic groups: a modelling study. The Lancet. Available at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62417-4/abstract

[13] Angus, C. et. al. (2015). Modelling the impact of Minimum Unit Price and Identification and Brief Advice policies using the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model Version 3. Available at https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.661445!/file/Final_mup_iba_report.pdf

[14] Data underpinning Angus C, et. al. (2016). Alcohol and cancer trends: Intervention scenarios.  University of Sheffield and Cancer Research UK. Available at https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/alcohol_and_cancer_trends_report_cruk.pdf

[15] Holmes, J., et al. (2014)

[16] University of Sheffield. FAQ – minimum unit pricing. Available at https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/scharr/sections/ph/research/alpol/faq