02 February 2012

Churches and Charities urge PM to take strong action on alcohol pricing

A coalition of national Churches and charities has written to the Prime Minister asking him to introduce a minimum unit price on all alcohol sold in Britain when the Government's alcohol strategy is announced later this month.

David Cameron has indicated that he may be willing to introduce a minimum price of 40 - 50 pence per unit on alcohol, but the group is worried that these plans may be dropped under pressure from the drinks industry.

The group is also encouraging individuals to write to their MPs, highlighting the problems caused by cheap alcohol in their local area and asking them to support per unit minimum pricing. A range of resources for the 'Measure for Measure' campaign are available online here.

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, United Reformed Church and Baptist Union of Great Britain 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.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

We write to you as a coalition of Churches, charities and Christian volunteer groups with long-running experience in the field of alcohol policy, and in helping individuals and communities harmed by alcohol misuse.

We welcome recent indications that, in recognition of the danger posed by cheap alcohol, the Government is seriously considering the introduction of a per unit minimum price. We believe that action on pricing must form the central element in the Alcohol Strategy which your Government is due to publish in February. There are various factors involved in problem drinking, but numerous studies have shown that price is the key determinant. Unless you include strong action on per unit pricing, other measures such as a ban on below-cost sales, a special tax on strong beers or a voluntary code for advertising are likely to be inadequate.

We recognise that there may be complex legal issues involving competition law. But current levels of ill health and public disorder associated with problem drinking mean that these issues must be addressed. In 2011, leading medical experts including Sir Ian Gilmore (Chairman of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance) and Andrew Langford (Chief Executive at the British Liver Trust), predicted that unless strong action is taken 250,000 lives could be lost over the next 20 years. They specifically advocate introducing a minimum unit price of 50p and implementing stricter controls on advertising. Alcohol misuse costs the UK an estimated £25 billion per year in public spending, without even considering the serious (but harder to measure) effects on people's wellbeing, including their mental health, family and social relationships and careers.

A YouGov poll commissioned by the Methodist Church and its partners in November 2011 found that 61% of UK adults felt that excessive drinking was a problem in their neighbourhood. We have seen the effects of cheap, strong drink on our streets, in our hospitals and police stations. It is in local communities that the damage caused by alcohol misuse is felt most deeply, particularly disadvantaged communities, which continue to suffer disproportionately from alcohol-related harms.

Furthermore, it is estimated that between 1.3 and 2.6 million children are affected by parental problem drinking. Neglect is a particular concern and these children are more vulnerable to developing other problems, including substance misuse. A joined-up national solution for these issues is clearly in the UK's best interests as a whole.

Some are concerned that per unit minimum pricing would penalise responsible drinkers. But research by the University of Sheffield found that a minimum price of between 40p and 50p per unit would save thousands of lives at the cost of only a few extra pence per week to the average drinker.

Legislation containing provisions for per unit minimum pricing will soon be considered by the Scottish Parliament. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are developing a cross-border alcohol strategy and working towards the possibility of agreeing a minimum price by December 2012. We are very encouraged by reports that you have taken a lead on per unit minimum pricing, as this is central to ensuring the success of the Alcohol Strategy. This is an opportunity for the Government to make a real difference to communities and vulnerable people across the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Revd Lionel E. Osborn President of the Methodist Conference, Methodist Church in Britain

Mr Paul Blakey MBE Founder of Street Angels, CNI Network

Helena Chambers, Director, Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs

Revd Jonathan Edwards General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain

Philip Fletcher Chair, Mission & Public Affairs, Church of England

Dr Dave Landrum Director of Advocacy, Evangelical Alliance

Adam May Director of Development, Street Angels, CNI Network

Revd Dr Kirsty Thorpe Moderator of the General Assembly, United Reformed Church

Helen Donohoe Director of Public Policy, Action for Children 

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