Cautious welcome for Government action on alcohol pricing

A coalition of national Churches and charities has welcomedreports that the Government plans to enforce a minimum unit priceon alcohol sales. But the groups warn that a long delay onimplementation could cost lives.

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

Prime Minister David Cameron is proposing to introduce a minimumprice of 40 pence per unit on all alcohol sold in England andWales. However, the exact details and time frame for implementationremain unclear.

"We are delighted that the Government is resisting pressure fromthe drinks industry to take the action that is needed," said RuthPickles, Vice President of the Methodist Conference, and a formeralcohol misuse counsellor. "This move will save not only money, butlives."

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

However, Churches and charities have warned that a delay inimplementing a new policy will only worsen the damage caused bycheap alcohol to individuals and communities.

"The evidence speaks for itself," added Ms Pickles. "We see noreason for a delay in implementing the measures when so manyacademics and health professionals are backing the move. We cannotact quick enough to save lives and safeguard the vulnerable.

"Things weren't always like this. Over recent decades, Britain hasdeveloped an unhealthy drinking culture, fuelled by a drinksindustry which aggressively markets its products. We would alsolike to see broader action taken to address the root causes of thisdamaging culture."

A survey conducted in December last year revealed that 61% of UKadults believe that excessive drinking is a problem (from minor tomajor) in their neighbourhood. The survey commissioned by theMethodist Church and their partners asked people to judge theeffects of alcohol on the area within walking distance from theirhome, or where they use local facilities. More information can befound here.