Health Committee - The Government's Alcohol StrategyWritten evidence from Professor Keith Humphreys and Professor the Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (GAS 43)


We strongly endorse the government’s proposal for setting a minimum price per unit of alcohol.

We write as health care professionals as well as people with experience in public policy.

The pricing may be better set at 45p per unit as this would be consistent with Scotland’s planned policy.

There is evidence of a greater effect on health outcomes of 45p than 40p on those drinking heavily and on the younger age groups from the slightly higher price.

Price controls would support pubs that already have price controls, unlike the supermarkets and other outlets that undercut them.


1. Binge drinking has an enormous adverse impact on public health and public safety in England and Wales. Research conducted at Oxford University indicates that alcohol-related health costs in the NHS are around £3 billion per annum, and the British Crime Survey reveals that there are one million alcohol-related assaults in England and Wales annually. In many communities, the high street has been taken over by episodes alcohol-fuelled aggression on Friday and Saturday nights, thereby depriving other local citizens of the freedom to feel that they can go out in safety. In both human and fiscal terms, the current situation is untenable for the future.

2. Extremely inexpensive alcohol is a major contributory cause to these problems. Epidemiological research demonstrates that problem drinkers spend about 80% less per unit of alcohol than do moderate drinkers. This reflects the fact that problem drinkers tend to favour the low-cost, high-strength alcoholic drinks that are sold in many off-licences and supermarkets. Minimum pricing is thus a policy specifically tailored to the problem at hand: the heaviest drinkers will face higher prices than they are used to, whereas moderate drinkers will probably not even notice the change because they already tend to pay prices well above the proposed minimum.

3. The increase in cost from a minimum pricing policy would impact on alcoholic beverages in the lower price bracket. This is important because research shows that even heavy drinkers are price-sensitive: they consume less alcohol when the cost rises. Canada’s experience with minimum pricing, for example, has shown that even a modest increase in minimum price reduces alcohol consumption. We believe the same should prove true in England and Wales.

4. Some critics have incorrectly portrayed minimum pricing as an anti-pub measure being contemplated when many pubs around the UK are closing. Just the reverse is true. Pubs are losing business because they are being undersold by extremely cheap alcoholic beverages available in off-trade. A minimum pricing policy should actually help protect pubs, allowing them to continue their valuable role as a centre of social life in many towns and cities.

5. We suggest that, although the government’s proposed minimum price of 40p per unit should deliver substantial public health and safety benefits, a strong case could be made for starting instead with a minimum price of 45p per unit, for two reasons. First, research recently published by Dr. Robin Purshouse and colleagues in The Lancet (Lancet 2010; 375: 1355–64) demonstrates that the health and safety benefits of a minimum price policy is greater at 45p than at 40p per unit (eg. conferring a further £60 million in health care cost savings annually). Second, 45p per unit is the minimum price being seriously considered in Scotland; for many reasons there are advantages in applying a consistent policy on both sides of the Scottish border.

6. In conclusion, setting a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales is likely to reduce problem drinking and its consequences while troubling neither the pub trade nor the millions of citizens who drink alcohol in moderation. We applaud the government for proposing a minimum pricing policy and hope that it is swiftly enacted.

May 2012

Prepared 21st July 2012