Labour MP with history of alcohol addiction calls for minimum unit pricing

Elliot Chappell
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Labour MP Dan Carden, who has talked openly about his personal experience of alcohol addiction, has tabled an amendment to the health and social care bill to implement minimum unit pricing to help tackle harm caused by alcohol.

The change proposed by the Liverpool MP, working in partnership with the Alcohol Health Alliance and Alcohol Change UK, would also introduce improved regulation of alcohol marketing and labelling and better assessment of treatment outcomes.

“As a society, we have a complex relationship with alcohol. While we celebrate and normalise its consumption, we stay silent about its harm,” he said.

“Every year, thousands of people die because of their alcohol consumption and many more are harmed. The harm goes far beyond the individual who drinks too much; it affects children, families, communities and society.”

Minimum unit pricing sets a floor price for a unit of alcohol, meaning that alcohol cannot legally be sold for less than that. The more alcohol a drink contains, the stronger it is and therefore the higher the minimum unit price would be.

The practice was introduced in Scotland in 2018 and Wales introduced minimum unit pricing in March last year. Both set the minimum price for a unit of alcohol at 50p. Ireland is set to introduce its own unit price in January 2022.

According to research by academics at Newcastle University, who carried out a survey of 35,000 British households, introducing minimum unit pricing has reduced consumption in some of the heaviest drinking households in Scotland and Wales.

“Minimum unit pricing targets the cheapest alcoholic products with the highest strengths, such as strong white cider, own brand vodka and gin, and super-strength lager,” Carden added.
“There are many myths surrounding minimum unit pricing, mainly that it would harm our pub and hospitality industry. It would have almost no effect on any drink sold in a pub.”

Alcohol is now the leading risk factor for ill health, early mortality and disability for people aged between 15 and 49 in England. The cost of alcohol addiction to the health service is estimated to be £3.5bn per year.

Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, described the amendment as a chance for ministers to implement a “life-saving” policy and highlighted the “substantial evidence that this policy is working” from Scotland and Wales.

Director of research and policy at Alcohol Change UK Lucy Holmes said: “Millions of people are suffering from worsened mental and physical health every day as a result of harmful drinking – a huge one in ten hospital inpatients are alcohol-dependent – and the harm ripples out, affecting children, families and communities.

“In 2020, deaths caused wholly by alcohol rose by 20% – the tragic impact of alcohol harm and an unacceptable and avoidable loss of life that is on the rise. To prevent this crisis from further deepening, the government must act now.”

Carden delivered a speech to parliament earlier this year, in which he revealed how he twice nearly lost his life to alcohol in his twenties. The intervention was described at the time as a “brave” and “deeply moving” intervention.

The Labour backbencher told the House of Commons “it took AA meetings, psychotherapy and counselling” to get to where he is now. Labour leader Keir Starmer tweeted that it was an “incredibly brave and powerful speech”.

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