23 March 2012

Cautious welcome for Government action on alcohol pricing

A coalition of national Churches and charities has welcomed reports that the Government plans to enforce a minimum unit price on alcohol sales. But the groups warn that a long delay on implementation could cost lives.

The groups wrote to the Prime Minister back in February asking him to introduce a minimum unit price, and have made a range of resources on the issues available as part of their Measure for Measure campaign.

Prime Minister David Cameron is proposing to introduce a minimum price of 40 pence per unit on all alcohol sold in England and Wales. However, the exact details and time frame for implementation remain unclear.

"We are delighted that the Government is resisting pressure from the drinks industry to take the action that is needed," said Ruth Pickles, Vice President of the Methodist Conference, and a former alcohol misuse counsellor. "This move will save not only money, but lives."

Studies conducted at Sheffield University indicate that introducing a minimum unit price will have a dramatic affect on problem drinking, with only a minimal impact on moderate drinkers. The researchers estimate that over ten years a 40 pence minimum unit price will save the nation £546 million in healthcare costs, £140 million in crime costs, £80 million due to workplace absence and £2.5 billion due to unemployment. The savings would be even higher should the Government choose to introduce a minimum unit price of 50 pence.

However, Churches and charities have warned that a delay in implementing a new policy will only worsen the damage caused by cheap alcohol to individuals and communities.

"The evidence speaks for itself," added Ms Pickles. "We see no reason for a delay in implementing the measures when so many academics and health professionals are backing the move. We cannot act quick enough to save lives and safeguard the vulnerable.

"Things weren't always like this. Over recent decades, Britain has developed an unhealthy drinking culture, fuelled by a drinks industry which aggressively markets its products. We would also like to see broader action taken to address the root causes of this damaging culture."

A survey conducted in December last year revealed that 61% of UK adults believe that excessive drinking is a problem (from minor to major) in their neighbourhood. The survey commissioned by the Methodist Church and their partners asked people to judge the effects of alcohol on the area within walking distance from their home, or where they use local facilities. More information can be found here. 

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