Sarah Cowling CEO

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The Price we’re really paying for cheap alcohol

As part of Alcohol Awareness week this year, 19 – 25 November, we are encouraging people to think about the price we’re really paying for cheap alcohol.

At face value, we’re getting a bargain. Alcohol is dirt cheap. In Newcastle you can buy two litres of cider for less than £2 and some lagers are cheaper than bottled water.

In fact the average British pocket money will buy enough alcohol to drink more than twice an adult mans weekly limit with change to spare.

But there’s a massive hidden cost and we’re all paying a heavy price.

  • Our children are more likely to say yes to illegal drugs or have unprotected sex if they drink alcohol.
  • North East kids are more likely to end up in hospital because of alcohol.
  • The North East has the highest rate of male alcohol related deaths in England.
  • Some charities are concerned that strong ciders and lagers are causing more harm to dependent substance misuers than some drugs.
  • Financially, the damage done by cheap alcohol costs Newcastle almost £150m per year, that’s equivalent to £1,059 per tax payer.

So it’s not really a bargain after all.

So what is a minimum unit price?

You may have heard about minimum unit price in the media and wondered what the impact would be? A minimum unit price will link the price of alcohol to its strength – the more units of alcohol, the higher the price.

It is designed to increase the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol, such as strong white cider. This will protect vulnerable younger and heavier drinkers who are more likely to drink cheap alcohol and suffer the consequences.

Price of units of alcohol

So how much will it cost me?


The more you drink, the more you can expect to pay. So, people who drink responsibly and keep within these recommended guidelines will expect to pay on average 28p a week more or an average of £14.45 more per year. People who regularly drink above these recommended limits can expect to pay an extra £1.79 per week or an extra £93.11 a year. Heavy drinkers, who regularly drink more than twice the recommended limits will face a price increase of £5.95 a week of £309.46 a year.

So why should I support a minimum unit price for alcohol?

After ten years, every year in England a minimum unit price of 50p per unit will:

• Save 3,393 lives
• Reduce hospital admissions by 97,900
• Cut crimes by 45,800
• Cut unemployment by 27,100
• Save 296,000 working days lost through absenteeism
• Reduce the amount younger and heaver drinkers consume.

As with anything you get what you pay for. Setting a lower minimum unit price than 50p will realise fewer benefits. Setting it higher will achieve more, for example a 60p per unit after ten years would annually save 5,875 lives; cut 88,400 crimes, reduce hospital admissions by 168,800, save 590,300 days lost to absenteeism and cut unemployment by 43,400.

A minimum unit price is already working in Canada and is supported by the majority of North Easterners. A minimum 50p per unit has been approved by Scotland. There is no sense in setting the bar any lower.

Our government is now committed to this measure. However the price is yet to be set and it’s the subject of an ongoing consultation which you can respond to by visiting

You will hear lots of counter arguments from alcohol companies who oppose minimum unit price, but at the end of the day we need to follow the independent evidence that shows minimum unit price works by saving lives and cutting crime which is endorsed by people with our health and safety in mind such as the British Medical Association and the country’s senior police officers.

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