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

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

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

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

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, United Reformed Church and Baptist Union of GreatBritain asked people to judge the effects of alcohol on the areawithin walking distance from their home, or where they use localfacilities. 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 andChristian volunteer groups with long-running experience in thefield of alcohol policy, and in helping individuals and communitiesharmed by alcohol misuse.

We welcome recent indications that, in recognition of the dangerposed by cheap alcohol, the Government is seriously considering theintroduction of a per unit minimum price. We believe that action onpricing must form the central element in the Alcohol Strategy whichyour Government is due to publish in February. There are variousfactors involved in problem drinking, but numerous studies haveshown that price is the key determinant. Unless you include strongaction on per unit pricing, other measures such as a ban onbelow-cost sales, a special tax on strong beers or a voluntary codefor advertising are likely to be inadequate.

We recognise that there may be complex legal issues involvingcompetition law. But current levels of ill health and publicdisorder associated with problem drinking mean that these issuesmust be addressed. In 2011, leading medical experts including SirIan Gilmore (Chairman of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance) and AndrewLangford (Chief Executive at the British Liver Trust), predictedthat unless strong action is taken 250,000 lives could be lost overthe next 20 years. They specifically advocate introducing a minimumunit price of 50p and implementing stricter controls onadvertising. Alcohol misuse costs the UK an estimated £25 billionper year in public spending, without even considering the serious(but harder to measure) effects on people's wellbeing, includingtheir mental health, family and social relationships andcareers.

A YouGov poll commissioned by the Methodist Church and itspartners in November 2011 found that 61% of UK adults felt thatexcessive drinking was a problem in their neighbourhood. We haveseen the effects of cheap, strong drink on our streets, in ourhospitals and police stations. It is in local communities that thedamage caused by alcohol misuse is felt most deeply, particularlydisadvantaged communities, which continue to sufferdisproportionately from alcohol-related harms.

Furthermore, it is estimated that between 1.3 and 2.6 millionchildren are affected by parental problem drinking. Neglect is aparticular concern and these children are more vulnerable todeveloping other problems, including substance misuse. A joined-upnational solution for these issues is clearly in the UK's bestinterests as a whole.

Some are concerned that per unit minimum pricing would penaliseresponsible drinkers. But research by the University of Sheffieldfound that a minimum price of between 40p and 50p per unit wouldsave thousands of lives at the cost of only a few extra pence perweek to the average drinker.

Legislation containing provisions for per unit minimum pricingwill soon be considered by the Scottish Parliament. NorthernIreland and the Republic of Ireland are developing a cross-borderalcohol strategy and working towards the possibility of agreeing aminimum price by December 2012. We are very encouraged by reportsthat you have taken a lead on per unit minimum pricing, as this iscentral to ensuring the success of the Alcohol Strategy. This is anopportunity for the Government to make a real difference tocommunities 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 andDrugs

Revd Jonathan Edwards General Secretary, Baptist Union of GreatBritain

Philip Fletcher Chair, Mission & Public Affairs, Church ofEngland

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, UnitedReformed Church

Helen Donohoe Director of Public Policy, Action forChildren