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14 March 2013

Alcohol minimum price set to be dropped

Alcohol minimum price set to be dropped

The government appear set to back track on plans to introduce a minimum alcohol price. Despite the refusal of a government spokesperson to confirm that plans to place a 45 pence per unit minimum price have been abandoned, the u-turn is now widely expected.

A consultation last year proposed the base price with alternatives at higher or lower levels also considered. The plans received strong backing from the Prime Minister at the time but other senior ministers are understood to have expressed serious reservations about the plans. A decisive factor seems to be Treasury concerns that a minimum price would lead to a fall in revenue from alcohol duty.

The Evangelical Alliance joined with many other church groups to back the Prime Minister's plans as one way of curbing excessive drinking and contributing to significant public health benefits. Alongside the vocal support of the Prime Minister, health secretary Jeremy Hunt had also backed the call supported by medical experts.

Speaking about the proposals to the Daily Telegraph Hunt gave his support to the plans, and went on to say: "I'm against binge drinking and I want to clean up our town centres which I think have been blighted by binge drinking for far too long. And I also as Health Secretary recognise that alcohol addiction is actually the primary cause of live disease where we actually have the worst survival rates in Western Europe… so I'm very sympathetic to it."

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston reacted on the Today programme to reports of the back pedalling with dismay, she commented: "If the Chancellor wants a message from me we are already paying a huge amount to clear up the cost of this. It is costing us around £21billion a year just to deal with the crime, violence and medicinal costs of it."

Officially the Home Office are still considering their response to the consultation, but indicators suggest next week's budget could see confirmation of the shift in position. At Prime Ministers Questions this week David Cameron would not be drawn on whether plans were ready to be shelved by reiterating his commitment to tackling low price, high strength alcohol. Liberal Democrat cabinet minister Vince Cable offered the strongest suggestion the idea had been abandoned by suggesting in a radio interview it was a "good concept" he would have liked to see become law.

The British Medical Association called on the Prime Minister to be courageous and stick to his previous commitment. Research suggests that if a minimum price was set at 50 pence it could prevent 3,000 deaths and many more hospital admissions. It would also save £1.37 billion in healthcare costs, £413 million in crime costs and £238 million due to workplace absence. The cost to moderate drinkers would be minimal, probably only about 28 pence per week, while for those drinking at a harmful level it would cost them £5.95 if they carried on drinking in the same manner, or £3.13 when their behaviour is modelled to take account of the change in cost.

The Evangelical Alliance will continue to support campaigns that tackle binge drinking, and limit access to cheap alcohol. The Methodist Church and the Salvation Army have been particularly vocal expressing their concerns, and resources to help you find out more are available online.