Government Alcohol Strategy response – Alcohol Research UK comment

Today the Government announced that it was abandoning plans to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.  It also dropped proposals to introduce a multibuy ban on sales in off-licenses and supermarkets.  In his introduction to the 2012 Alcohol Strategy David Cameron wrote that ‘we are going to introduce a new minimum unit price’, with a consultation on the right level at which it should be set.  This u-turn does not appear to be based on any new evidence, but rather a change of heart following sustained pressure from sections of the alcohol industry.

In his statement to Parliament, Jeremy Browne MP said 56% of respondents to the Alcohol Strategy consultation didn’t agree with a 45p minimum unit price, but was unable to say how many of those felt it should be actually be higher.

The Government now looks set to revert to its previous policy of banning the sale of alcohol at below cost + VAT.  However, previous analyses have found that this will have a negligible impact on drinks promotions and cheap alcohol sales.

The Government has also announced that ‘ancillary sales’ will now be permitted, allowing the sale of small amounts of alcohol without a licence.  Furthermore today’s statement made no mention of the proposed introduction of a public health-based licensing objective: a key proposal in the Strategy, and one which would allow a greater involvement of health in the licensing process.  It is unclear whether this has also been dropped.

Dr James Nicholls, Research Manager at Alcohol Research UK said:

“The Prime Minister gave an unambiguous commitment to minimum unit pricing in his introduction to the 2012 Alcohol Strategy.  His subsequent u-turn suggests the Government is unable, or unwilling, to stand up to lobbying from powerful business interests.  The evidence on minimum unit pricing has not weakened – indeed it has become stronger since the Alcohol Strategy was released.

With both MUP and the proposed multibuy ban now abandoned, and no mention of the proposed public health-based licensing objective, few substantial evidence-based proposals to limit alcohol-related harm remain from the original Strategy.  The Strategy now looks increasingly hollow.  If the Government wishes to tackle alcohol-related harm, it must be prepared to make difficult decisions based on the best evidence available.”