Cheap alcohol: the price we pay (2016)

The Alcohol Health Alliance surveyed UK supermarkets to find out how cheaply alcohol is being sold.

The survey covered Scotland, the North West of England, the North East of England, and London.

Results

We found an abundance of cheap prices, including on the most harmful, high strength drinks.

The lowest priced products found in all categories were:

  • Perry/Lambrini: 19p
  • Cider: 16p
  • Lager: 23p
  • Wine: 19p

Recommendations

To tackle the proliferation of cheap, harmful alcohol, the government needs to:

1. Reinstate the duty escalator

Alcohol sold in the UK is 60% more affordable than it was in 1980. This increasing affordability has increased alcohol-related harm. To counter this trend, duty levels should continue to increase year on year.

2. Increase duty on high-strength cider

Due to anomalies in the duty system, high-strength 7.5% ABV ciders are available for the lowest price per unit of any drink. As a result, they are favoured by dependent, street and young drinkers. Restructuring cider duty so that these products can be targeted with higher tax rates would substantially reduce the harms associated with them.

3. Ensure that spirits are taxed at a higher rate than wine and beer

In comparison to beer and wine, spirits are generally much cheaper to produce and distribute. The same rate of duty for all beverage types means that distilled spirits can be sold much more cheaply than wine or beer, which is a public health concern as they are much stronger and carry a greater risk of health and social harm.

4. Upon leaving the EU, restructure UK alcohol excise duties so that drinks in all categories can be taxed according to their strength

The current structure of UK alcohol taxes is governed by European directives in a way that means it is not possible to tax wine or cider in proportion to their strength.

5. Implement an MUP for all alcoholic products

Minimum unit pricing is needed to deal with the particular problem of the cheapest, strongest drinks that are favoured by the heaviest drinkers and is compatible with promoting an alcohol duty structure for other products.

Minimum unit pricing is a measure which would target the cheap, high strength products drunk by harmful drinkers and children, without affecting moderate drinkers or the price of alcohol in pubs.

In fact, pubs would benefit from the introduction of MUP. Following the scrapping of the duty escalator and duty cuts, pub prices have increased sharply relative to prices in the off trade. This is because supermarkets have been more readily able to pass on duty cuts to consumers.