Minimum Alcohol Pricing – are you happy to pay more?

May 16, 2012, 1:19 PM UTC

To set, or not to set? Participants debate the pros and cons of setting a minimum unit price for alcohol

Across the UK, the question of whether or not a minimum price for a unit of alcohol should be introduced has continued to arise in recent months.

Previously, an independent study by Sheffield University – commissioned by the Department of Health in 2008 – had concluded that a minimum alcohol unit price set at 45p would help reduce the amount of alcohol drunk by ‘hazardous and harmful drinkers’.

In Scotland, the Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill is currently making its second passage through parliament. Once passed, it will set the minimum unit price at 50p, instead of the 45p previously endorsed, making the ­cheapest bottle of wine £4.69, while a four-pack of lager would cost at least £3.52.

The Scottish Government hopes that this will lead to a reduction in hospital admissions, violence and deaths through alcohol abuse.

David Cameron is also talking about introducing a 40p per unit price in England and Wales.  

The drinks industry has argued that raising the price of alcohol will disproportionately affect responsible consumers, and is not an effective solution for addressing alcohol-related problems. The price of alcohol has actually risen at a faster rate than many other goods over the last 25 years, yet people are consuming more than ever.

YouGov's Public Opinion polling in March this year found that the UK public were split evenly over the issue – with 46% in support of the minimum pricing, and 46% against.

And responses were similarly divided when we invited you into Labs to argue your case for or against setting a minimum unit price for alcohol.

However, those of with you with opinions on the matter, who were in favour of minimum pricing, were then split over exactly what price the minimum should be set at.

Those of you who took part and were against the minimum price laws thought it was unfair to expect everyone to pay the price for a policy aimed at tackling a minority of people for whom alcohol is a problem.

They suggested that the introduction of such a baseline might not solve the bigger problems, and that it should not be up to the Government to set alcohol prices.

Participants in favour of minimum price laws mainly thought the price should be higher – to really make a point.

Those who thought 45p was about right explained that, in their eyes, action needed to be taken, and this seems like a good starting place. Just a few participants thought that 45p was too high a minimum price.

What are your thoughts on introducing a law for a minimum alcohol unit price? What price, if any, should be set?

And what effect would it have on Britain’s drinking ‘culture’? Have your say below.

Here's what our poll participants had to say...

1. Against: a minimum unit price for alcohol

Argument 1: It penalises responsible drinkers

“Those who are desperate for alcohol will go to any lengths to obtain it, by fair means or foul. Meanwhile, the majority who enjoy occasional alcoholic beverages will be penalisedAnon

“I do not see why sensible drinkers should suffer because of a minorityBrian, Sale

 “It penalises the people who drink sensibly but don’t necessarily have a lot of money and still allows the young with no real financial commitments to go out, get drunk, and wreck the town centres” Keith B, Kent

“The cost should not be borne by the many for the sake of a few idiots” Mike H, Leeds

I don’t see why people who are sensible about the amount they drink should be punished by having to pay higher prices for their alcohol, just because some people can’t control their intake of alcohol” Anon, Oxon

“It is a bureaucratic waste of time for both taxpayer and businesses that won't change the drinking habits of those the measure is targeted at but will penalise the sensible social drinkerAnon

“I think the law setting a minimum price for alcohol could make it too expensive for low wage/no wage drinkersAnon

“I believe that the law should tackle the offenders and the ones who abuse alcohol and not punish everybody by making it more expensive” Alan H, Bolton

“It will penalise responsible people who like to drink at home, and would be used as a further tax increase on working class people who can no longer afford to go to the pub because of the cost” Pete, Bristol

Argument 2: The Government should not get so involved

Retailers should be allowed to sell at what price they wish, the Government should concentrate on the financial mess and stop trying to dictate to people how to live their lives” Chris, Leeds

People must take personal responsibility for their lives; the state should not enter into social engineering projects” Anon

 “I think the shopkeepers should be able to price things and not be dictated to by the Government” Anon

“Companies have to compete, and should be able to charge what they wantLynne, London

It is illegal for companies to price fix so why should it be made legal for one industry (or the Government) to do so?” Anon

“Setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol just introduces another aspect of the 'nanny state' attempting to control consumer drinking habits. Unless this increase was channelled into funding a service that supports alcoholics, I could never support it” Charlie, Sheffield

“The Government says one minute that the Bankers can set own bonuses as it’s a free market so why interfere with prices on drink if it’s a free market?Clive, Bedfordshire

I do not believe that the state should control the how or what people choose to consume. The state can seek to influence people’s behaviour but by persuasion rather than by enforcement” Geoff B, Croydon

“Why should the Government be allowed to determine how much we pay for alcohol – what’s next, a minimum price on chocolate to combat obesity?” Emily, Lancashire

Argument 3: It won’t solve the ‘drinking culture’ problem

“I feel that we need to look more closely at attitudes to drink, and why alcohol is so much more of an issue in this country than in other parts of Europe” Anon

“I spend a lot of time in Europe, where the tax and price of alcohol is much lower than here, yet drink related problems are far fewerTony M, Cornwall

It will not change people’s drinking habits at all. We need to change the silly ‘I have to be drunk to enjoy myself’ culture” Pete, Manchester

“Other countries do not have this problem because they educate their children to enjoy alcohol but to respect it as dangerous as well. The British attitude needs to be changed but minimum pricing is not the way to do it” William H, Plymouth

It does not address the problem of under-age/binge drinking. If people want to drink, price may not always be a factor – they will cut back on other things like food or paying bills” Anon

People who think going out for the purpose of getting drunk is a ‘good night out’ will do so whatever the price. Perhaps the bar owners should be held responsible for selling alcohol to people who have had too much” EAB, Norwich

“I have yet to see evidence that minimum pricing works – alcoholism in Scandinavia (where alcohol is far more expensive than the UK) is still prevalent – and I feel it is punishing a law-abiding majority” Anon

Excess drinking has existed as long as alcohol has, therefore it appears to be more related to human nature than pricing” Will, Glasgow

“Those who have an alcohol problem will still buy their drinks even if the price is higher. It will merely mean that a higher portion of the income will be spent on alcohol and less on other things, leading to further poverty” Jo, Plymouth

 

2. For: a minimum unit price for alcohol

Argument 1: 45p per unit is too low

“I don't believe that those prices (45p) are high enough to discourage excess consumption – with spirits particularly” Anon, Edinburgh

“That's incredibly cheap, still. Alcohol isn't an everyday grocery, it's for special occasions!” Anon

“Alcohol in supermarkets/off-licences should NOT be cheaper than pubs as this just encourages binge drinking at home in a non-supervised environment where vulnerable others could be at risk” Anon

Alcohol is a big problem in our society. It should be much more expensive than it is at the moment” Colin S, Ipswich

“Not sure on the exact price but it should be sufficient to compensate for all of the damage and disruption caused to town centres by drinkers” Anon

“At 45p per unit, it is still far too cheap and will not make any significant difference to the amount of alcohol consumed” Ozzie, Lincoln

“Alcohol dependency is at ridiculous levels while the social and health costs are in no way compensated for by current prices. Raising the minimum price will at least send a clear message to the majority who feel that its use and abuse is an acceptable part of everyday life” Paul S, London

Argument 2: 45p per unit is about right

The first attempt to set a suitable level is guesswork. The Government can refine the figure in the light of future data” Brian P, Dorset

“I think it is enough to put off some people from drinking too much – e.g. teenagers, jobless etc. but not too much that honest, hardworking people whose wages are stretched as it is are still able to buy drink” Anon

“It is not too expensive for sensible drinkers, but may force young binge drinkers to cut downAnon

“This may help bring in some restraint without being over-punitive: although I think extra strength drinks such as white cider and Special Brew should be walloped” Anon

“I am not much of an alcohol drinker so I am unwise as to the normal prices of alcohol, but it should be high enough for people to question the purchaseAnon

Anything that discourages binge drinking should be welcomed by society” James, Canterbury

“It should be high enough to deter young people with less cash, and low enough not to deter responsible adult drinkers” Anon

Argument 3: 45p per unit is too high

“Similar to cigarettes and minimum wage, the Government should introduce a sliding scale on minimum pricing – start small and increment it slightly above inflation to be less noticeable to adults without a drink problem” Eleanor, Glasgow

“The price of alcohol should not become extortionate, but is too cheap in placesJames M, London

“There is a lot of variety in quality of wines up to 45p/unit. Some need to be cheaper!” Anon

“I feel something closer to 40p per unit is a more appropriate level to test out the theory. I don't think it will make much difference to 'committed' drinkers” Anon

“As a student, alcohol is already fairly expensive, so I agree with setting a minimum price. But it should be lower than 45pAnon

“It makes the price for a bottle of wine quite expensive. And sometimes the quality can be really bad so then it is not worth this much. Maybe 30 pence per unit is better” Anon


What are your thoughts on introducing a law for a minimum alcohol unit price? What price, if any, should be set?

And what effect would it have on Britain’s drinking ‘culture’? Have your say below

Follow and discuss: @YouGovLabs on Twitter