Time for a crackdown on cheap North East booze - before more lives are lost

Up to 75 more North East lives could be lost by 2023 - unless a minimum unit price is brought in on alcohol.
Campaigners want England to follow Scotland's lead with a minimum unit price on alcohol. Photo: PA.Campaigners want England to follow Scotland's lead with a minimum unit price on alcohol. Photo: PA.
Campaigners want England to follow Scotland's lead with a minimum unit price on alcohol. Photo: PA.

That’s the stark message as the minimum unit price (MUP) comes into effect in Scotland.

Its aim is to cut alcohol deaths and hospital admissions, as well as slashing crime and reducing costs to the health service, but now experts want the same in England and warn that any delay could have serious consequences for the North East.

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Campaigners say it is vital that England does not get left behind, pointing to estimates which suggest delaying MUP in England by five years could lead to:

• 1,148 lives lost nationally;

• 82,000 alcohol-related crimes taking place;

• A cost to the NHS of £326 million.

For the North East a five-year delay could mean 75 additional North East lives lost, 11,000 alcohol related crimes and 4,600 hospital admissions which otherwise could have been avoided, costing the region almost £66m.

In Scotland, the floor price will be set at 50p per unit. This means that a pint of beer containing two units will now have to cost at least £1. It also means a three-litre bottle of high strength white cider containing the equivalent of 22 shots of vodka will cost over £11 in Scotland as opposed to as little as £3.50 in England.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said: “Cheap alcohol is wrecking lives and livelihoods in England as well as Scotland. There are more than 23,000 deaths a year in England linked to alcohol, and many of these come from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society.

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“Minimum unit pricing will save lives, cut crime and benefit the public finances. At the same time, pub prices will be left untouched, and moderate drinkers will barely notice the difference under MUP.

“There has been some excellent work in the North East to raise awareness of alcohol and cancer and the region also has the highest rate of sign-ups for Dry January. However, the harms of alcohol are felt most severely by the poorest people in society. The Government has taken action on tobacco and on sugar - so why not alcohol?

“Any delay in implementing MUP in England will only cost lives and lead to unnecessary alcohol-related harm. We urge the Westminster government to act now.”

The toll of drinking on the North East.

The estimated cost of alcohol harm in the North East was a staggering £1.01 billion a year in 2015/16.

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* £209 million in NHS and healthcare for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and also treatment for alcohol dependency.

* £331 million in crime and disorder, including 55,300 cases of criminal damage, 154,900 cases of theft and 20,000 cases of violence against the person.

* £353 million lost to local businesses and employers through absenteeism, lost productivity and alcohol related deaths, including 548,400 days off and 8,249 potential years of working life lost due to alcohol related deaths.

* £121 million in costs to children and adults’ social services and substance misuse services.

* These figures would equate to £386 per head for every man, woman and child in the North East, compared to an average national figure of £363.