The UK government could introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol throughout England, following the lead set last week by Scotland.
The Scottish government became the first in the world when it began forcing retailers to charge a minimum £0.50 per unit of alcohol – a policy aimed at reducing the availability of cheap, high-strength and alcohol and easing the burden on public health services.
Scottish health secretary Shona Robison claimed that alcohol misuse cost Scotland £3.6 billion each year.
Yesterday Steve Brine, a junior health minister, told colleagues in Westminster: “We are developing a new alcohol strategy and as part of this I’m commissioning Public Health England to undertake a review of the evidence for minimum unit price in England.”
His comments mark the potential resurrection of a policy first mooted in 2012, but later scrapped amid pressure from the drinks industry.
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirits Trade Association (WSTA), said it would be “vital” to look at the evidence from Scotland’s minimum unit pricing policy before making a decision whether to replicate it in England.
“At the WSTA we will also be looking closely at the impact of the policy,” Beale said. “The vast majority of people in the UK enjoy a drink responsibly and long term trends show consumption is falling. Minimum unit pricing has never been tried anywhere in the world, is untargeted and has already proved complex and costly to introduce. The Scottish government’s policy will increase the price of around half of the alcohol on supermarket shelves and will impact most drinkers, particularly those on lowest incomes.
“The WSTA’s long held view is that minimum unit pricing is likely to be ineffective in changing the behaviour of problem drinkers. There are also questions about the potential impact on cross border trade and illicit alcohol.
“It will be vital that the UK government assesses the impact on businesses and on consumers of the minimum unit pricing experiment in Scotland. It will need to be rigorously and objectively monitored and evaluated over time.
“I am looking forward to my first meeting with the new Home Office minister in charge of the government’s alcohol policy, Victoria Atkins MP, who took up her post in November. I expect then to discuss the government’s approach to alcohol and how we, the industry, can continue to work in partnership with ministers and officials.”
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