Government plans to consult on a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales as part of a drive to tackle problem drinking have divided opinion in Bradford .
Medical experts and some of the district’s MPs have welcomed the move but it is being fiercely opposed by supermarket bosses and some MPs.
The Government wants to see a 45p per unit, and an end to multi-buy offers at supermarkets and off-licences.
Ministers believe the move will save the taxpayer millions of pounds a year by cutting crime and health problems linked to binge drinking, and slash the number of booze-fuelled deaths.
Dr Andrew O’Shaughnessy, public health consultant for NHS Airedale, Bradford and Leeds, said: “We welcome the Government’s consultation on plans to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol as this is one of a broad range of measures that may help reduce the harm caused by alcohol.
“Tackling the problem of excessive drinking is a top priority for us and in the Bradford district there is an increasing range of practical support and advice on offer across the district to help people with alcohol problems, and new funding from the NHS clinical commissioning groups will expand the range of alcohol misuse services on offer.
“Over the past decade, alcohol misuse has increased, binge drinking has risen dramatically and alcohol-related hospital admissions have soared. Sadly, we are starting to see younger people presenting with chronic liver disease caused by alcohol. Most people are aware that drinking alcohol is related to liver disease, but what they often don’t realise is that regular drinking has also been linked with strokes, heart disease and some cancers.”
However, Julian Bailey for Bradford-based supermarket group Morrisons, said: “We disagree with minimum unit prices for alcohol. The reason for that is our customers expect us to set prices for them, not for the Government to interfere.
“There is no other product where the Government sets the price.
“At the same time we understand that there is problem for a small number of people who have drink problems. We think that the right thing to do is invest in education and change the culture of the country. We work with Drink Aware on exactly that. The other very important point to make is that for some time we have had a policy of not pricing alcohol below the rate of duty plus VAT. We think that the right policy is to actually put a floor under the price of alcohol at the rate of duty plus VAT.”
MPs are split as to whether there should be a minimum price per unit for alcohol – with one fearing it will hit the poorest in society.
Shipley Tory MP Philip Davies said the move would hit the poorest in society who enjoyed a sensible drink, instead of targeting the few who drink to excess and cause trouble.
Mr Davies said: “I am vehemently opposed to a minimum prices. It is a small proportion of people who drink cheap alcohol from the supermarket and go on and behave like drunken yobs in the street.
“Rather than penalising everyone one including responsible drinkers let's target those few causing menace and get tough and prosecute them and send them to prison.”
Bradford West MP George Galloway (Respect) said: “I’m certainly in favour of raising the minimum price. I don't drink but I’ve seen the disastrous effects alcohol has on individuals and families.”
Bradford East MP David Ward (Lib Dem) said: “There is clearly a need to take action and the fact now that it is so easy for young people to buy alcohol of a volume which is clearly damaging to their health is something that needs to be addresses because the industry do not seen to be taking responsibility.”
Keighley MP Kris Hopkins (Con) said: “The purpose of this consultation is to find the best way to tackle binge drinking which, shockingly, accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country.
“It is not aimed at seeking to curb the ability of responsible individuals to have a drink at affordable prices.”
Bradford South MP Gerry Sutcliffe (Lab) said: “I’m not convinced that minimum pricing of alcohol will do anything to tackle problem drinking and anti-social behaviour. It seems like well-intentioned but flawed policy. The people who will suffer most are responsible drinkers who are already hurting from rising food prices, wage freezes and rising energy and fuel bills.”