15 March 2011

Church criticises the Government's alcohol 'responsibility deal'

The Methodist Church has criticised the Government's "responsibility deal" to tackle alcohol abuse, saying that it prioritises the drinks industry over the vulnerable.

Rachel Lampard, Public Issues Team Leader for the Methodist Church, said:"We are totally unconvinced that the Government's proposed 'responsibility deal' on alcohol regulation will be effective in reducing the problem of harmful drinking."

The deal, announced today, covers voluntary agreements with the drinks industry on matters such as promotions and labelling. Six medical organisations, including the BMA and Alcohol Concern, have walked away from this deal on the grounds that it favours the drinks industry, and places no limits on pricing or advertising.

"It offers no measurable criteria for harm reduction and has limited requirements for action on the part of the industry," said Rachel. "This is undoubtedly a deal that prioritises the drinks industry over the vulnerable, giving the government little power to enforce any constructive action."

"Medical bodies have consistently argued that the increased affordability and availability of cheap, strong alcohol in recent decades, is the main driver of the UK's problem drinking culture, and subsequent health and crime problems. Alongside these bodies, we will continue to call for a minimum unit price for alcohol. Research by Sheffield University in 2008 found that a fixed price of 40p per unit would only cost moderate drinkers an extra £20 a year as opposed to £200 for harmful drinkers, but would reduce incidents of crime by 16,000 per year, saving at least £17 million in police, NHS and other costs.

"We have an opportunity to reverse the devastating effects of years of under-regulation of the drinks market. Pledges to put alcohol unit values on labels and promote responsible drinking are likely to be totally undermined if not accompanied by limits to advertising and a broader rethink of alcohol pricing. If the Government means to keep its promises around harm reduction, alcohol policy should be informed strongly by medical evidence and not sidelined by the pressures of the industry."

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