English drinkers can consume a week’s worth of alcohol for the same price as a high street cup of coffee, campaigners warn

10 November 2020

Drinkers in England can consume a week’s worth of alcohol for the same price as a high street coffee,[1] according to a report released by health experts today.

It is possible to drink the low risk weekly guideline of 14 units for just £2.68 – about the price of a cup of coffee in many high street chains.

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK, a coalition of more than 55 organisations including medical royal colleges and health charities, is now calling on the government to commit to tackling cheap, high-strength alcohol in its review of the alcohol duty system and through introducing minimum unit pricing in England.

As part of the research, the Alcohol Health Alliance UK visited shops and supermarkets across England, Scotland and Wales to compare how cheaply alcohol is being sold in each nation.

The cheapest products were all found in England, the only nation in Great Britain not to have a minimum unit price for alcohol of 50p.

The cheapest products found were:

 VolumeABVUnitsCurrent pricePrice per unit
Beer, standard strength4 cans x 440ml4%7£2.15£0.31

Key findings

  • Cider is the cheapest available product in England and is being sold for as little as 19p per unit of alcohol, meaning that consumers can reach the weekly low-risk drinking guideline of 14 units of alcohol for just £2.68.
  • One bottle of the cheapest cider contains more alcohol than eight pints of beer – and costs 8p less than a single pint in a pub.
  • For the price of a standard cinema ticket (£7.11), you could buy two bottles of wine, containing 19.5 units, and have 13p change leftover.
  • A 1-litre bottle of vodka, which contains 37.5 units, is cheaper than a large pizza at Dominos (£14.99).

Cheap, high-strength alcohol, such as white cider is known to be predominantly drunk by the most vulnerable groups, including children, high-risk drinkers and homeless people. Studies have indicated that 75-85% of white cider drinkers favour it for its low price, which enables them to drink large quantities even with limited funds.[2]

New data shows the majority of Brits would support alcohol tax increases to help fund the NHS

Not only does the World Health Organization recommend an increase to the price of alcohol as one of the most cost-effective policies to reduce alcohol harm,[3] most of the public support it too. A new survey from YouGov found that the majority of the public (56%) support an increase in alcohol taxes if the money raised goes into funding public services impacted by alcohol use, such as the health service and the police.[4]

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said:

“The low price of high strength alcohol continues to cause colossal damage to the health of our nation. Alcohol is linked to 80 deaths in the UK every day, as well as seven types of cancer and stroke.

“To tackle the harm alcohol causes, we need to urgently address its price. Alcohol duty is currently too low to cover the costs of alcohol harm to our society. Public Health England estimates that alcohol costs the UK at least £27 billion a year.  Yet over the past five years, alcohol duty has raised just £10.5-£12.1 billion annually. To pay for the costs to society that alcohol imposes, stronger drinks should be taxed more per unit of alcohol. Reforming alcohol duty will help create a fairer system for everyone as well as improving our nation’s health.

“With alcohol-related hospital admissions at record highs, and liver disease rates on the rise, we simply cannot afford alcohol remaining at such low prices.”

Dr Katherine Severi, Chief Executive at the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said:

“Pocket money priced drinks are fuelling rates of harm amongst some of our most vulnerable communities, with strong white ciders in particular proving lethal. Now, more than ever, we need to be fighting fit as a nation and looking to reduce the additional burden on the NHS and emergency services caused by cheap alcohol.

“Scotland has followed the evidence and introduced minimum unit pricing for alcohol, which has effectively removed strong white ciders and other cheap products from the market. This will make a huge difference to those struggling with alcohol problems and their loved ones, as well as easing demands on the health and social care system. Decision makers in Westminster should look long and hard at this example of an evidence-based policy that saves lives and money.”

Colin Shevills, Director of the North East Alcohol Office Balance, said:

“With the highest rates of alcohol related deaths and hospital admissions in England, the North East is suffering the greatest harm from alcohol which is very cheap and, because of recent cuts in alcohol duty, getting even cheaper. And, despite not drinking the most, it is people in our most deprived communities who are suffering the greatest harm.

“If the Government is serious about ‘levelling up’ and reducing health inequalities we need a fairer alcohol duty system and a minimum unit price for alcohol in England. These measures would reduce harm to individuals, reduce pressure on our emergency services and raise much needed money to invest in our public services.”

[1] For example, a large latte or cappuccino costs £2.85 at Starbucks, £2.75 at Caffe Nero and £2.65 at Costa Coffee. Sources: Fast Food Menu Prices (2020). Starbucks UK Menu Prices. Latest Menu Price List 2020 (2020). Caffe Nero Menu & Caffe Nero Prices in United Kingdom. Menu With Price (2020). Costa Coffee Prices in the UK.

[2] Black, H. et al (2014). White Cider Consumption and Heavy Drinkers: A Low-Cost Option but an Unknown price. Alcohol and Alcoholism 49:6, pp. 675–80.

[3] World Health Organisation (2017). Tackling NCDs: “best buys” and other recommended interventions for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases

[4] AHA (2020). Public opinion polling carried out by YouGov. Total sample size was 1,846 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th – 27th October 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).