Minimum price for alcohol ‘will help save lives’

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Ministers have defended controversial plans to ban cheap deals on booze, insisting they would save hundreds of lives every year.

The coalition unveiled plans yesterday for a minimum alcohol price of 45p per unit, and an end to multi-buy offers at supermarkets and off-licences. Officials estimate the move will save the taxpayer millions of pounds a year by cutting crime and health problems linked to binge drinking.

But the drinks industry warned responsible consumers would suffer, with prices being pushed up, while health campaigners said the measures did not go far enough, with a chorus of calls for a minimum price of 50p per unit.

Unveiling the package of measures being put out for consultation, Home Office minister Damian Green said: “The evidence is clear – the availability of cheap alcohol contributes to harmful levels of drinking. It can’t be right that it is possible to purchase a can of beer for as little as 20p.”

The Government believes a 45p minimum unit price will reduce total alcohol consumption by 3.3 per cent, and cut the number of crimes by 5,000 per year and hospital admissions by 24,000. There would also be 700 fewer alcohol-linked deaths annually, according to the predictions.

The department’s impact assessment suggests moderate drinkers will spend an extra £7 per year, while harmful drinkers – defined as more than 50 units per week for men and 35 for women – would need to find an extra £118.

The public purse will lose around £200m in duty due to falling sales and there would be a £500,000 bill for enforcing the rules, plus up to £16.6m in “transitional” costs for the industry.

The consultation says banning multi-buy offers would be “expected to result” in a cut in consumption but admits there is not enough evidence to assess benefits properly.

The proposals for England and Wales come after the Scottish Government legislated to impose a minimum alcohol price of 50p per unit. But the policy has yet to be enforced following a challenge by wine-producing European Union nations which say it breaches EU law on free trade.

And two trade bodies, the Scotch Whisky Association and the European Spirits Organisation, have been granted judicial review of the legislation.

Brewer SABMiller, which makes drinks including Grolsch, said a minimum price will “unfairly hit” responsible drinkers in low-income families.