Last Round for Budget Booze

14 September 2011
Posted by Emily Seward.

Work published this week by Professor Martin Hagger from Curtin Univeristy in Australia proposes a minimum price per unit of alcohol in the UK.  Alcohol awareness has increased with campaigns aimed at alerting people to health risks, but this proposal could be the last round for budget booze.

CiderThe problems of alcohol abuse are evident.  Three out of every hundred men in Liverpool are being admitted each year to hospital for alcohol related problems.  This totals an annual cost of more than £7.3 billion to the tax payer.

It's thought that this is brought about in part due to the widely available 'budget' alcohol that can be less than 20p per unit.  To relate this to another recreational drug, cocaine, it is one hundred and sixty times more expensive to buy 1g of cocaine (about £40) than 1g of alcohol (about 25p).

Supermarkets in particular use cheap alcohol as a hook to draw in buyers.  The discounts they offer are effectively subsidised by the rest of the weekly shop.  The hope is that by preventing such offers, which take the price of alcohol below the minimum of 50p per unit, it will encourage other discounts on items such as fruit and vegetables.  This plan would in effect prevent moderate or non-drinkers from continually subsidising discount beverages.

Far from being a blanket increase in cost, they propose that narrowing the price gap between budget and premium alcohol will have the desired effect.  This proposal therefore wouldn't impact on the price of beer in a pub, or a glass of wine in a restaurant as they are already charging well above the proposed minimum.

Not surprisingly, producers of the drinks are also in support and although skeptics may argue that all this will do is line the alcohol manufacturers' pockets, a recent study has suggested that a minimum of 50p per unit would reduce alcohol consumption in the UK by roughly 7%.  This would have the huge impact of saving up to £10 billion in costs associated not only directly to alcohol related injury, but also with the management and policing associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol abuse is an ever increasing problem but with a combination of additional awareness and legislation, perhaps we can put a stopper in "budget booze".

Interview with Professor Martin Hagger

M Hagger (2011), The Cost of Alcohol: The Advocacy for a Minimum Price per Unit in the UK, (in press).

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