Drinkers in England can consume their entire weekly guideline amount of alcohol for the price of a coffee, according to new research from the Alcohol Health Alliance. The alliance visited shops and supermarkets across the UK and found that the cheapest drinks were all in England, where no minimum unit price has been introduced. ‘It is possible to drink the low-risk weekly guidelines of 14 units for just £2.68 – about the price of a cup of coffee in many high street chains,’ the alliance states.
Beers, wines and spirits were all on sale in London branches of Aldi and Lidl for between 31 and 38p per unit, while cider remains the cheapest product – available for as little as 19p per unit. The minimum unit price in Scotland and Wales is 50p. A YouGov survey carried out in October found that 56 per cent of the public would support an increase in alcohol taxes if the money was used to fund services impacted by alcohol, such as the NHS and police. While alcohol duty raises between £10bn and £12bn per year, Public Health England estimates the annual cost of alcohol-related harm at £27bn.
‘Pocket money priced drinks are fuelling rates of harm amongst some of our most vulnerable communities, with strong white ciders in particular proving lethal,’ said Institute of Alcohol Studies chief executive Dr Katherine Severi. ‘Now, more than ever, we need to be fighting fit as a nation and looking to reduce the additional burden on the NHS and emergency services caused by cheap alcohol. Scotland has followed the evidence and introduced minimum unit pricing for alcohol, which has effectively removed strong white ciders and other cheap products from the market. This will make a huge difference to those struggling with alcohol problems and their loved ones, as well as easing demands on the health and social care system. Decision makers in Westminster should look long and hard at this example of an evidence-based policy that saves lives and money.’
This year’s Alcohol Awareness Week, meanwhile, runs from 16-22 November and takes the theme of alcohol and mental health (DDN, November, page 5). Change Grow Live has developed a short online quiz to help people find out if they are drinking dependently and the kind of support they are likely to need, as well a free webchat service. Estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that the number of people drinking more than the recommended guidelines increased from 4.8m to 8.4m during the first COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year.
‘It is now essential that the government acts to address this increase in higher risk drinking,’ said Change Grow Live executive director Nic Adamson. ‘The stakes have never been higher. Unless we have the capacity to reach and support over 3m more people who are now identified as high-risk drinkers, the long-term implications for public health will be disastrous. As the UK’s largest national provider of drug and alcohol treatment services, we are calling for the government to urgently prioritise the support people need in the next spending review.’
More on alcohol awareness initiatives in the December/January issue of DDN.