Roughly 4% of drinkers account for almost one-third of all the alcohol consumed in the England, ‘staggering’ new statistics show.
The figures were revealed on Monday in a parliamentary debate on a 50p minimum unit price (MUP) on alcohol, which has recently been passed in Scotland.
‘Around 4.4% of the population are drinking just under a third of the alcohol consumed in this country. That’s around 2 million drinking just over 30% of the alcohol,’ said Rosanna O’Connor, director of alcohol, drugs and tobacco at Public Health England (PHE).
MUP is an attempt to prevent the excessive consumption of cheap and strong alcohol, typically high-strength cider, which can be bought for as little as £3.60 and contains more than 22 unit of alcohol.
‘The result would be a significant impact on a small group of people. That’s why it’s such a targeted policy for such great health gains,’ added O’Connor.
Speaking alongside O’Connor at the parliamentary committee, Prof Nick Sheron from the University of Southampton said: ‘A typical Frosty Jack’s [cheap, high-strength cider] drinker would be drinking about 16 litres a week and they would be paying about £20 for it – now that would go up three-fold, they’d be paying about £70 for it.’
Proponents of a MUP say that it can help to reduce ‘problem drinking’ in certain sections of the population, while ensuring that costs for more responsible drinkers remains similar – the price for a wine drinker consuming 14 units a week (the recommended maximum) would only rise by £1.26.
An MUP also is not a tax and therefore pubs, bars and nightclubs would not need to charge more as their drinks are already priced about the 50p per unit mark.
Critics of the policy, however, say that it will ‘punish’ responsible consumers.
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), who have been a staunch opposition to the policy in Scotland, said: ‘A minimum unit price of 50p will punish the majority of responsible consumers with higher prices, hitting the poorest hardest and will do nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse.’
Government estimates put the cost of alcohol abuse in England and Wales at £21 billion per year. This includes alcohol-related crime, costs to the NHS and losses to the economy.