Time to rethink alcohol unit price

By on 08/01/2014 in Cllr Bedser, News

Birmingham health chiefs have called on the Government to reconsider introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol, insisting: “Cheap booze costs lives.”

Last summer, the Government shelved plans for a minimum unit price, opting instead for a ban on the sale of alcoholic drinks priced below the level of duty and VAT.

That move was widely criticised by health professionals at the time and figures published today by the British Medical Journal reveal officials and ministers had 130 meetings with alcohol and supermarket lobbyists while considering new price controls.

Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Steve Bedser, said: “The BMJ report is disturbing but sadly not surprising and raises a big question for the Government: Is the health of the nation more important than the interests of big business?

“Cheap, strong alcohol costs lives and until we get to grips with that, many of our alcohol related problems will continue - both in terms of health issues and antisocial behaviour.

“Just as the tobacco companies are fighting tooth and nail to resist plain packaging, the drinks industry will go to extraordinary lengths to protect profits but the Government must resist the lobbyists and put public health first.”

Last July, Public Health Birmingham withdrew support for the government ‘Responsibility Deal’ – partly in response to the minimum unit price U-turn.

Director of Public Health, Dr Adrian Phillips, said: “It cannot be right that in some cases alcohol is cheaper than water and we desperately need measures to combat that ridiculous situation.

“It's now increasingly common for people to 'pre-load' on cheap super strength cider, lager and beer at home before heading out. That has major health implications but also economic implications as bars and pubs just can't compete on price.

“I hope the Government can be brave enough to reconsider this decision, so we can start to tackle the unhealthy relationship many people have with alcohol.”

Alcohol in Birmingham

While most people drink responsibly, alcohol misuse ruins thousands of lives in Birmingham and costs the city around £200 million a year.

Figures from Birmingham Drug and Alcohol Action Team show that 25 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women in the city are drinking above safe limits.

The damage caused by alcohol misuse includes:

  • At peak times, up to 70 per cent of all admissions to accident and emergency departments in Birmingham are related to alcohol;
  • 3,600 incidents of domestic violence (around a third) are linked to alcohol misuse;
  • Up to 170,000 working days are lost through alcohol-related absence, costing the city's economy about £30 million each year;
  • About 20,000 children in Birmingham are affected by parental alcohol problems;
  • Marriages where there are alcohol problems are twice as likely to end in divorce;
  • In 2009, half of all 11 to 15-year-olds in the city had already had an alcoholic drink;
  • Parental alcohol misuse has been identified as a factor in more than 500 child protection cases.

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