The price we pay for cheap alcohol
A review of alcohol prices in a range of retailers found products like high strength white ciders, which are predominantly drunk by dependent and underage drinkers, available for as little as 16p per unit.
This means that for the cost of a standard off-peak cinema ticket it is possible to buy almost seven and a half litres of high strength white cider, containing as much alcohol as 53 shots of vodka.
The report argues that recent cuts in alcohol taxes allow supermarkets to sell alcohol at rock bottom prices, but have done little to benefit pubs and their customers.
In the 2012 Government Alcohol Strategy, the then Coalition Government, led by David Cameron, accepted that the price of alcohol has a significant impact on how and how much people drink.
It accepted the harm that drinking alcohol can lead to and the pressure that alcohol places on the emergency services. The Prime Minister pledged to take evidence-based action to tackle the problem when he committed to the introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol.
However, MUP has not been introduced in England and Wales. Under alleged pressure from global alcohol producers, plans to implement minimum unit pricing were put on hold and instead the sale of alcohol below cost price was banned, a measure that, according to the report, was estimated to affect less than 0.7% of alcohol products.
Subsequently, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne implemented a series of cuts in alcohol duty, including an end to the alcohol duty escalator which increased duty by 2% above inflation and which was quoted in the 2012 Government Alcohol Strategy as an example of how the Coalition Government was tackling the problems caused by cheap alcohol.
As a result, since 2012 beer duty has fallen 14%; cider and spirits duty is 6% lower; and wine duty is unchanged. According to Treasury estimates, by 2017/18 these measures will have cost the government almost £3bn in lost revenue.
The organisations who comprise the Alcohol Health Alliance visited a range of off-sales premises looking for the nation’s cheapest alcohol and examined almost 500 products. Their main findings were:
- Alcohol continues to be sold at pocket money prices, with white cider dominating the market for cheap, high-strength drinks.
- High-strength white cider products, predominantly drunk by dependent and underage drinkers, are sold for as little as 16p per unit of alcohol.
- Recent cuts in alcohol taxes allow shops and supermarkets to sell alcohol at pocket money prices but have done little to benefit pubs and their customers.
- High-strength white cider is taxed at the lowest rate of all alcohol products. A can of 7.5% ABV white cider attracts less than one-third of the duty on a can of beer that is the same strength.
The report makes concludes by arguing that, unless action is taken on the availability of cheap alcohol, harms associated with alcohol consumption will continue to rise, increasing the burden on the NHS and public services. It makes four key recommendations to government asking it to:
- increase duty on high-strength cider;
- reinstate the alcohol duty escalator;
- upon leaving the EU, tax all alcoholic drinks categories in proportion to strength; and
- implement a minimum unit price for all alcoholic drinks.
The Alcohol Health Alliance is a coalition of 40 organisations who share an interest in reducing the damage caused to health by alcohol misuse in the UK including medical bodies, charities and alcohol health campaigners. You can follow the on Twitter @UK_AHA.
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