On 22 April, a debate was held in the House of Lords about the report by the Commission on Alcohol Harm ‘It’s Everywhere’—Alcohol’s Public Face and Private Harm.
Chaired by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, the Commission on Alcohol Harm was established to examine the current evidence on alcohol harm, the recent trends and the changes needed to reduce the harm caused. Supported by the Alcohol Health Alliance, the commission also examined the need for a new comprehensive strategy for England and considered UK-wide priorities in areas where policy is not devolved.
The debate highlighted a number of stark findings from the report including:
- More than 80 people die every day in the UK because of alcohol-related causes
- Alcohol is responsible for more years of working life lost than the 10 most frequent cancers combined
- 200,000 children are estimated to live with an alcohol dependent parent, making them five times more likely to develop eating disorders and three times as likely to consider suicide
- Almost 40% of violent crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol.
- Almost 9,000 casualties and deaths from drink driving were recorded in Great Britain in 2018
Baroness Finlay, who proposed the debate, outlined the recommendations of the Commission – starting with the urgent need for an alcohol strategy. She said: “The strategy needs to include evidence-based policies to reduce the affordability, the availability and the marketing of alcohol, as recommended by the World Health Organization.”
The UK has not had an alcohol strategy since the now-outdated 2012 strategy, despite wide-ranging evidence of the harm alcohol causes.
The report made a number of recommendations which were highlighted by many to the speakers, including:
- calling on the UK Government to introduce a new comprehensive alcohol strategy;
- introducing minimum unit pricing in England and Northern Ireland;
- restricting alcohol advertising across a range of platforms to protect children; and
- labelling alcohol products with information about alcohol harm including nutritional information.
Baroness Jenkin and Lord Brooke were among speakers to commend the Government for the upcoming consultation on calorie labelling for alcoholic drinks.
“My Lords in the minute I have left can I commend the government for its commitment to calorie labelling of alcoholic drinks as part of the obesity strategy. Polling shows the UK public are overwhelmingly supportive of health and nutritional information on alcohol labels. It is clearly absurd that alcohol free beer, shows the nutritional information, but ordinary beer doesn’t. My Lords this has to change. This is another common sense effective policy and I urge the government to stick to its plans.”Baroness Jenkin
Lord Rennard was one of the speakers who asked whether the Government planned to introduce minimum unit pricing in England. A 50p Minimum Unit Price in England has been estimated to lead to almost 22,000 fewer hospital admissions, and 525 fewer deaths per year when at full effect.
He said that within a year of introducing MUP in Scotland, there was a net reduction in alcohol sales compared to England and Wales, with indications that the greatest reduction was amongst those drinking at the highest levels.
In response, government minister Lord Bethell commended the ‘excellent report’ of the Commission and agreed that more must be done to tackle alcohol harm across the UK. He highlighted that the Government will be publishing a new addiction strategy, which will consider a range of issues including alcohol. He stated that this will provide an important opportunity to consider what more can be done to reduce alcohol harm.
The Minister also agreed with several of the speakers that people have a right to know what it is their drinks, and confirmed that a consultation on introducing calorie labelling for alcohol will be launched this summer. Regarding MUP, he stated that, while there are no current plans to introduce MUP in England, the government will continue to monitor the evidence from Scotland and Wales. He concluded by reiterating the government’s commitment to support the most vulnerable at risk form alcohol harm.
A transcript of the debate is available here.
Read the full report of the Commission on Alcohol Harm here.