Government and trade dismiss report calling for minimum unit pricing

01 October, 2014

Researchers at Sheffield University have argued that putting a minimum unit price of 45p on alcohol would be 50 times more effective than the current ban on below-cost selling.

The university’s findings were used as evidence by the government when it originally proposed minimum unit pricing, but its research methods were criticised.

The government then decided to scrap plans for minimum unit pricing, instead stopping retailers selling alcohol below the cost of duty and VAT.

This ban will save an estimated 14 lives and 500 admissions to hospital per year, the researchers said.

However, a minimum unit price of 45p could save 624 lives and 23,700 hospital admissions each year, they said in a BMJ publication.

The team came to this decision by “modelling a linked series of policy outcomes for 96 population subgroups defined by sex, age, annual income, and consumption level”.

It explained in the BMJ: “When a change in prices is inputted as a model scenario, the percentage change in mean weekly consumption for each population subgroup is estimated for each beverage.

“This is then applied to the corresponding individual level consumption data in the model. Each individual’s percentage change in peak daily consumption is indirectly modelled using a linear regression, with peak daily consumption estimated as a function of mean weekly consumption, age, and sex.”

The university’s research has been called into question before and the Department of Health was unmoved by its latest argument, instead reiterating its desire to work with the industry to tackle alcohol abuse in a joined-up fashion.

It said in a statement: “Alcohol-fuelled harm costs society £21 billion a year and we are determined to reduce this burden to taxpayers. We are taking action to tackle cheap and harmful alcohol such as banning the lowest priced drinks.

“We are working with industry to promote responsible drinking, and are already making headway by removing a billion units from the market over three years.”

Miles Beale, chief executive at the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, said: “Repeated calls for minimum unit pricing ignore the reality that per-capita consumption has fallen 18% in the past 10 years – a far higher drop than was predicted in real terms under minimum unit pricing.

“Rather than punishing responsible drinkers through higher prices, the government is rightly working in partnership with the industry to continue the good progress being made in tackling alcohol harm.”

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