The government has proposed plans to introduce a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol in England and Wales in an effort to stamp out binge drinking.  The plans aim to encourage responsible drinking and transform the behaviour of those who cause the most problems for hospitals and police. David Cameron states that the move could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol-related deaths a year by the end of the decade.

While most prices would be unaffected, the cost of heavily-discounted ciders, lagers and basic spirits could be significantly altered. It is hoped that this would reduce what police describe as “the growing trend for ‘pre-loading'” on cheap alcohol before heading out to bars and clubs.

The impact:

  • A £2.99 bottle of red wine (9.4 units) would be priced up to £3.76
  • A can of strong lager (3 units), would rise from 75p to at least £1.20
  • A £4.80 half bottle of vodka could become £5.20

The bill is already being opposed with critics commenting that it is misguided as there is no straight forward link between the cost of alcohol and irresponsible drinking. The UK already has the highest alcohol taxes in Europe and although this is not a tax, it will increase prices further. This in turn will hit consumers, in particular the poorest, hard.

The government promises that pubs will not be negatively affected, and may infact benefit as cheap alternatives in supermarkets become more expensive. This may also work in the same way for independents, as large supermarket chains will not be able to cut prices as far as they do currently.

The alcohol industry has warned that it could – and would – challenge under free trade and competitions laws. As public health minister Ann Milton told Westminster’s science and technology committee in October, minimum pricing legislation may well contravene EU legislation: “Our advice is that, in itself, it is probably illegal… I think we have to be very careful about penalising the majority because of the minority.”

Scotland, who is already trialing the scheme, is expected to test the legality with a proposal of a minimum price of 45p per unit.