At least 75 North-East lives will be lost if the Government delays the introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) in England for five years, the region’s alcohol office has warned.
The North East will also see almost 11,000 alcohol-related crimes and 4,600 hospital admissions which otherwise could have been avoided. This level of harm will cost the region almost £66million, according to figures released today by Balance.
MUP – a measure which increases the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol most often consumed by heavy drinkers and children – will be introduced in Scotland on May 1 after a five-year delay caused by legal challenges from the alcohol industry. Campaigners are calling on the Government to make sure a similar delay doesn’t happen in England.
The figures are released on a day when the merits of MUP are being discussed in Parliament at a special joint meeting of the Health Select and Home Affairs Select Committees.
The North East will have a voice at the inquiry. Sergeant Mick Urwin, from Durham Police, will be giving evidence on behalf of the National Police Chiefs Council, which represents police forces from across the country. Mick, who works in Durham’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Unit, sees the problems caused by cheap alcohol first-hand.
Mick 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, with the poorest six-and-a-half times more likely to end up in hospital because of alcohol than the most affluent.
And while consumption among children is falling, the region also has the highest drinking rate in England among 11 to 15-year-olds, with an estimated 9,000 having been drunk at least once or twice in the past four weeks.
It is for these reasons, among others, that Balance director Colin Shevills is calling for the introduction of MUP in England at the earliest opportunity.
Colin 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.
“All of the independent experts agree. 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.
“The beauty of MUP is that it 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.”