I have blogged before about the level of harm alcohol does to our society. On that occasion, I went on to argue against minimum pricing of alcohol, suggesting it was a bad piece of social policy as it disadvantaged the majority to help the minority in an incredibly ineffective way. I was wrong; alcohol abuse is affecting us all. Through broken relationships or broken livers, whether it is bankrupt pubs or bankrupt governments – alcohol is costing us all!
In 2010 we saw over a million alcohol related admissions to hospital. It is costing the NHS an estimated £2.7bn every year. We all pay the price of alcohol misuse. Equally, around 25% of the population engages in hazardous drinking. A lot of us are damaging our health by drinking too much. In other words, the problem we have at the moment is not just affecting a small group of drinkers – it is increasingly affecting us all.
Secondly, I have realised that putting a minimum price per unit of alcohol does not significantly affect those who do not over consume. In other words the criticism that is ‘affects the majority to help the minority’ does not stand up to scrutiny. If you are in the 75% of UK population that enjoys a drink, you will only pay a small amount extra per year’s worth of drinking. While those who drink too much on a regular basis will stump up a much larger bill. As a piece of social policy it directly acts to disincentives the behaviour we are worried about – consuming alcohol in large quantities.
Setting a basic 50p per unit price for alcohol would mean a can of beer would cost at least £1, a pint of beer would cost at least £1.50, a bottle of wine would cost at least £4.50 and a 70cl bottle of spirits would cost at least £14. This is hardly a big expense for someone drinking less than 3 units a day (as per Government recommended guidelines).
This small increase however would result in:
- Over 1,600 fewer hospital admissions in the first year alone and 97,900 fewer in 10 years time.
- 406 less deaths in the first year and 3,393 fewer in 10 years time
- 10,000 fewer violent crimes
- A saving of £66 million in reduced health costs and £49.6 million in reduced crime costs in the first year alone
Minimum pricing would cost responsible drinkers just a few pence per week and have a huge benefit to wider society. This is why I was wrong and why I now support minimum pricing of alcohol (at a much higher rate than most organisations advocate).