Booze price delay could cost North East lives

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office.
Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office.

Seventy five North East lives could be lost by 2023 - unless the Government acts quickly on bringing in a minimum unit price on drink.

That’s the warning from the alcohol awareness group Balance which spelled out the stark consequences of any Government stalling. A minimum unit price (MUP) will be introduced in Scotland on May 1 but only after a five year delay caused by legal challenges from the alcohol industry.

Colin Shevills.

Colin Shevills.

But any such setback in England could lead to nearly 11,000 alcohol related crimes and 4,600 hospital admissions in the North East which otherwise could have been avoided.

All that will cost the region almost £66m, according to figures released today by Balance.

The merits of a minimum unit price were being discussed today in Parliament at a special joint meeting of the Health Select and Home Affairs Select Committees. Sergeant Mick Urwin from Durham Police was due to give evidence on behalf of the National Police Chiefs Council.

Mick, who works in Durham’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Unit, sees the problems caused by cheap alcohol first hand.

Reducing the affordability of the cheapest, strongest alcohol is the most effective and cost-effective way of reducing levels of alcohol harm which are currently costing the North East over £1billion a year

Colin Shevills

He said: “We know that cheap alcohol is the drink of choice for heavy drinkers and many children. We know this because members of our force regularly see such products being consumed on the street.

“The kinds of products that MUP will affect – the cheap ciders and vodkas – are exactly those products that we confiscate on a regular basis. These products are putting the health and safety of some of our most vulnerable populations at risk and it is members of the emergency services that have to deal with the consequences.”

The North East suffers some of the worst harms associated with alcohol. It has the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions.

And while consumption amongst children is falling, the region also has the highest drinking rate in England amongst 11-15 year olds, with an estimated 9,000 having been drunk at least once or twice in the past four weeks.

Balance Director Colin Shevills said: “We drink in a similar way to our Scottish neighbours and suffer from many of the same harms, so what is good for them is good for us.”

“Reducing the affordability of the cheapest, strongest alcohol is the most effective and cost-effective way of reducing levels of alcohol harm which are currently costing the North East over £1billion a year.”

He said MUP “goes to the heart of the problem by raising the price of the cheapest, strongest products. It doesn’t affect the price of a pint or a glass of wine in a pub and moderate drinkers – rich or poor - are unlikely to notice any difference.”