U.K. proposes minimum pricing to make shitty, cheap booze less attractive

The shelves at a London store called—no joke—Little Store Cheap Booze, in 2011. (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The shelves at a London store called—no joke—Little Store Cheap Booze, in 2011. (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The U.K.’s House Of Commons is holding fascinating hearings this week on the subject of really cheap booze. Yes, some types of alcohol are so inexpensive over there, The Daily Mail reports, that the government will consider a minimum alcohol price to discourage kids from getting utterly shit-housed on crappy liquor, cider, and beer.


This is a move so foreign to Americans—like the monarchy or cheese-rolling festivals—that we need a breakdown:

How cheap is the booze in Britain?

Sergeant Mick Urwin, spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, told the House Of Commons’ committee that students are able to buy certain types of alcohol for less than the price of a school lunch, according to the Daily Mail. He cites three-liter bottles of 7.5 percent ABV cider that sell for £3 (about $4).

Why is this a problem?

Sergeant Urwin in his testimony stressed the dangers of young people binge drinking, saying they’re able to afford high-octane booze with just the money their parents give them for lunch. Rosanna O’Connor of Public Health England also testified that just 4 percent of the population consumed almost one-third of all the alcohol sold in England, pointing to problematic drinking among a small subset of the population.

What is minimum alcohol pricing?

The U.K. is considering a regulation that requires alcohol to be priced at a minimum of a 50p (71 cents) per alcohol unit. An alcohol unit is a measurement we don’t use much in the States; in the U.K., a unit is 10 mL of pure alcohol. So, a pint of 5 percent ABV beer contains 1.6 alcohol units, according to the Drinkaware calculator, while a single shot of 40 percent ABV whiskey would contain 2.6 units.


“Introducing a minimum price of 60p per unit [10p higher than the proposal] would see 3,000 fewer alcohol-related deaths over five years, 88,000 few hospital admissions and 350,000 crimes, according to health data,” the Daily Mail reports.

Rather than a tax, revenues from minimum alcohol pricing mean more money for alcohol manufacturers, not the government. Some critics argue that a tax would be a better solution because the revenue generated could be used to fund alcohol-abuse treatment programs.


Could this actually be adopted?

Scotland became the first country in the world to institute minimum alcohol pricing when its Supreme Court last year rejected an appeal from whisky manufacturers, the Independent reports. In 2013, then U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron abandoned a minimum pricing campaign after opposition from alcohol and lobbying groups argued it would hurt responsible drinkers on tight incomes. But following the Scottish declaration last year, the proposal is again up for debate in Britain, according to the Daily Mail.


How much more expensive would alcohol become?

If the proposed 50p minimum was adopted, a liver researcher at the University of Southampton estimates the cost would be an extra £1.26 ($1.79) per week for someone drinking wine or spirits, £2 ($2.84) for a beer drinker and ($4.27) for a cider drinker. Of course, many types of higher-end alcohol are already priced above this minimum. Additionally, the proposal currently under consideration would not apply to alcohol pricing at bars and restaurants.


Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.


In 2013, then U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair

Blair stepped down a whole 6 years earlier than that.