Alcohol Minimum Pricing Policy: government and national debate
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Unit of AssessmentEconomics and Econometrics
Summary Impact TypeHealth
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
In 2007, as part of a major update of the national alcohol strategy, the
UK Government announced that it would commission an independent national
review of the evidence on the relationship between alcohol price,
promotion and harm. Subsequently, in 2008, researchers from the University
of Sheffield (UoS) were commissioned by the UK Department of Health (DoH)
for an `Independent Review of the Effects of Alcohol Pricing and
The UoS research has played a crucial role in informing the debate and
deliberations on the available Government options for interventions on
alcohol consumption in England and Wales, by providing a robust evidence
base to underpin the debate. The UoS research findings have been used to
inform policy by senior decision-making bodies e.g. the House of Commons
Health Select Committee and the UK Chief Medical Officer to inform policy.
The findings have also stimulated the potential for policy intervention
beyond England and Wales, e.g. in Scotland and Australia.
The research was undertaken during 2008 and was the first empirical study
intended to answer specific policy questions around pricing of alcohol and
the related effects on harms in terms of health, crime and employment in
England. It was these insights that underpinned the debate about policy
interventions, particularly minimum pricing, to address alcohol
consumption. The Sheffield research team comprised Karl Taylor (Department
of Economics), together with Alan Brennan, Petra Meier and Robin Purshouse
(all at the School of Health and Related Research in 2008).
The analysis estimated how price changes affect alcohol consumption and
how this in turn influences health outcomes. This was undertaken for the
population as a whole and also for a range of subgroups: (i) young people
under 18 who drink alcohol; (ii) 18-24 year old hazardous drinkers; and
(iii) harmful drinkers whose patterns of drinking damage their physical
and/or mental health or cause substantial harm to others. The analysis
focused on four types of alcohol: beer; wine; spirits; and RTDs i.e. ready
to drinks (e.g. alcopops), identifying whether alcohol was purchased on
licensed premises (e.g. pubs), or off licensed premises (e.g. home
consumption of alcohol purchased from supermarkets).
Based on existing DoH guidelines in 2008 for alcohol consumption in
England, drinkers were classified into three categories based on their
mean alcohol intake per week: (i) `moderate drinkers', up to 21 units per
week (pw) for men and 14 units for women; (ii) `hazardous drinkers',
between 21 to 50 units pw for men and 14 to 35 units for women; and (iii)
`harmful drinkers', more than 50 units pw for men and more than 35 units
per week for women.
The analysis undertaken enabled a simulation of the effects of setting a
minimum price for alcohol. To simulate the effects of policy changes in
the pricing of alcohol, it was necessary to first establish the
sensitivity of alcohol consumption to price changes (elasticity). The
estimation of price elasticity was undertaken by Taylor in the Department
for Economics, UoS. The empirical analysis was based on data from the
Expenditure and Food Survey (EFS) providing purchasing transaction data
for individuals over the five years 2001/02 to 2005/06, including detailed
information on demographics, quantity purchased and prices paid.
Econometric analysis on the EFS data was then undertaken to quantify the
elasticity of demand for alcohol — the change to purchasing levels that
can happen when prices change. This was undertaken for 16 different
categories of alcohol: beers, wines, sprits and RTDs, split by
on/off-trade purchase and further split into two price categories, using a
cut-off for low quality alcohol (defined by the DoH) of less than 30p per
unit of alcohol (off-trade) and less than 80p per unit of alcohol
The results from econometric analyses (comprising 256 own and cross-price
elasticities) undertaken by Taylor were then used to: (i) estimate the
impact of policies on levels of alcohol consumption; and (ii) assess the
effect of consumption changes on mortality and disease prevalence for 47
health conditions. Minimum pricing interventions were found to be
effective for reducing consumption and subsequent health-care costs and
health-related quality of life losses (see 4a).
References to the research
Initial research grant from the DoH held by A. Booth, A. Brennan, P.
Meier, D. O'Reilly and K. Taylor. Two reports to the DoH published in
R1. Booth, A., Meier, P., Stockwell, T., Sutton, A., Wilkinson, A., Wong,
R., Brennan, A., O`Reilly, D., Purshouse, R. and K. Taylor (2008).
`Independent Review of the Effects of Alcohol Pricing and Promotion:
Modelling the Potential Impact of Pricing and Promotion Policies on
Alcohol in England.' Department of Health Policy Research Programme
R2. Brennan, A., Purshouse, R., Taylor, K., Rafia, R., Meier, P., Booth,
A., O`Reilly, D., Stockwell, T., Sutton, A., Wilkinson, A. and R. Wong
(2008). `Independent Review of the Effects of Alcohol Pricing and
Promotion: Systematic Reviews.' Department of Health Policy Research
Programme Peer-Reviewed Report. (www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.95617!/file/PartA.pdf).
Academic peer reviewed article published in 2010:
R3. Purshouse, R., Meier, P., Brennan, A., Taylor, K. and R. Rafia (2010)
`Estimated Effect of Alcohol Pricing Policies on Health and Health
Economic Outcomes in England: An Epidemiological Model.' The Lancet,
vol. 375, issue 9723, pp. 1355-64. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60058-X
(Lancet impact factor: 39.06)
R4. Purshouse, R., Meier, P., Brennan, A., Taylor, K. and R. Rafia (2010)
`Webappendix: Methods Used for the Derivation of Elasticity Estimates for
Moderate Drinkers and Hazardous/Harmful Drinkers in England.' The
Lancet Supplementary Webappendix.
Details of the impact
The impact on public policy has reached the highest levels of the UK and
Scottish Governments, helping shape the political debate, and has also
raised minimum pricing up the policy agenda overseas, e.g. in Australia
and Canada, and helped to inform potential interventions in the EU (S4).
The UoS research has been highly visible in the wider public arena,
helping to inform public understanding of the issues around price
interventions and subsequent benefits.
a) Impact under the Labour Government in England and Wales:
After the Sheffield team reported to the DoH in 2008, the Labour
Government's Chief Medical Advisor Sir Liam Donaldson drew up plans in
early 2009 to implement a minimum price on alcohol in England, where no
drinks could be sold for less than 50p per unit of alcohol (as supported
by the research of the UoS team). If introduced nationwide, he argued
(using statistics directly from UoS research, see R1-R4) that alcohol
consumption would be cut by 7%, deaths per annum would fall by just under
3,400 and there would be an estimated 97,900 fewer hospital admissions
(S1). The UoS research published in The Lancet estimated that a
minimum price set at this level would save up to 50,000 individuals from
illness in a decade, where the largest harm reduction would be for those
individuals aged 45 and over with chronic ill health. However, the then
Prime Minister Gordon Brown refused to endorse the scheme on the grounds
that it would also penalise `moderate drinkers'.
b) Continuation of influence under Coalition Government: 2010 onwards
Under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government the
Chancellor in his June 2010 budget outlined the intention to review
alcohol taxation and pricing to tackle problem drinking without unfairly
penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries.
Whilst the Home Office reports fed into the review of pricing, the
Treasury led the review of taxation holding informal consultations during
the summer of 2010 between industry players, considering in particular the
rates and structure of duty on different products, the differential
between rates on high and low strength products, and the interaction
between tax and price. In the March 2011 budget the government announced a
2% above inflation rise on duties for beer, wine and spirits, over and
above flat rate increases previously imposed.
In England and Wales a ten week consultation period was launched by the
Home Office (28th November 2012 - 6th February 2013)
on a plan to set a minimum price of 45p per unit of alcohol as part of a
drive to tackle problem drinking. It also considered banning multi-buy
promotions e.g. two-for-one offers. The consultation sought views on five
key areas: (i) banning multi-buy promotions; (ii) review of mandatory
licensing conditions; (iii) health as a new alcohol licensing objective;
(iv) cutting red tape for businesses in order to reduce the burden of
regulation; and (v) minimum unit pricing (MUP). Meetings and events were
held with key stakeholders. The intended audience of the consultation
were: (i) licensed premises; (ii) licensing authorities; (iii) other
responsible authorities; (iv) health bodies; (v) the police; (vi) the
public; (vii) professional bodies; and (viii) trade bodies (S9). However,
on 17th July 2013, following analysis of the consultation's
responses, the Home Office minister Jeremy Browne announced that the
government would not be proceeding with minimum unit pricing, despite the
previous commitment shown, but this would "remain under consideration."
The Home Secretary Theresa May stated in a post consultation Home Office
document (S10 page 3) "We are not rejecting MUP — merely delaying it until
we have conclusive evidence that it will be effective". Instead a ban on
the sale of alcohol below the level of alcohol duty plus VAT would be
implemented, coming into effect no later than spring 2014.
c) Reach beyond England and Wales
The research undertaken by the UoS team has also influenced the public
policy recommendations of the devolved Scottish Government, e.g., relating
to the introduction of an Alcohol Bill as part of their `Improving Health'
programme (see http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Health/Services/Alcohol/minimum-pricing),
where it is stated that `The Chief Medical Officer believes that — like
the smoking ban — minimum price would save lives within a year. Recent
research by the University of Sheffield supports this — their model
suggests a 40p minimum price would save about 70 lives in year one, rising
to 365 lives per year by year ten.' In May 2012 the Scottish Health
Secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced a minimum price of 50p per unit. The
`Alcohol Minimum Pricing Scotland Bill' (S6) was the final stage of the
parliamentary process and it was anticipated that the policy would be
implemented in April 2013. However, the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA)
took legal action against the proposal which it believed contravened
European Law. The SWA lodged a complaint to the European Commission and
filed a petition for judicial review with the Scottish Court of Session.
This was ultimately rejected in May 2013 although the SWA has since lodged
an appeal which has delayed the implementation of a minimum unit price in
In Northern Ireland the Health Minister Edwin Poots was joined by the
Irish Republic's Health Minister Dr James Reilly and Minister of State for
Health Róisin Shortall where a cross-border strategy on a minimum price
for alcohol was decided in 2011. Plans for minimum pricing between 45p and
50p per unit of alcohol were favoured following a consultation plan
announced by the Social Development and Health Ministers in March 2011
(S7). After a cabinet meeting in October 2013 it was announced that a new
Public Health Bill would be introduced with measures to curb the
advertising of alcohol and set a minimum unit price for drinks based on
their alcohol content.
In 2012 The Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA) was
tasked by the Commonwealth Government to examine the public interest case
for a minimum price for alcohol, to discourage harmful alcohol consumption
and promote safer consumption. A consultation document `Exploring the
public interest case for a minimum (floor) price for alcohol' was released
for public consultation in June and a draft report (S8) produced in
November 2012 which directly cites the UoS research. The ANPHA presented a
final report to Government in early 2013 and subsequent policy action is
currently under consideration.
d) Informing the public debate
Members of the public are one of the groups the ten week consultation was
aimed at. However, more generally, the exposure of the general public to
the policy debate has been on-going since the UoS report was initially
published. There has been extensive media coverage, e.g. The Financial
Times, The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph. Examples of public exposure
to the issues around alcohol minimum pricing and its affects are evident
from prime time television coverage, e.g. Question Time (26/05/2011) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00h7569;
and Panorama (28/09/2012) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01mrmfd.
Awareness of the Sheffield research has reached the retail sector, trade
associations and advertising trade journals. For example, the Wine and
Spirit Trade Association website, http://www.wsta.co.uk,
where there is extensive discussion of the pricing debate, most recently
in relation to MUP in Scotland and the on-going legal action by the SWA.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Listed below is a selection of documents, predominantly Governmental,
which directly cite the research which was undertaken by the Sheffield
S1. Donaldson, L. (2009). Passive Drinking: The Collateral Damage
Citation of UoS research: pp. 21-22.
S2. House of Commons Health Committee (2009) Alcohol: First Report of
Session 2009-10, Volume I, London: The Stationery Office
Citation of UoS research: pp. 12, 39, 66, 69, 76-77, 96-97, 101, 105,
108-109, 111, 113, 115 & 127.
S3. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2010). Alcohol
Use Disorders: Preventing the Development of Hazardous and Harmful
Drinking, London: National Institute for Health and Clinical
Citation of UoS research: pp. 57-8.
S4. World Health Organisation (2009). Evidence for the Effectiveness and
Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions to Reduce Alcohol-Related Harm.
Citation of UoS research: pp. 77-79.
S5. The Governments Alcohol Strategy (2012). Presented to Parliament by
the Secretary of State for the Home Department by Command of Her Majesty.
Citation of UoS research: pp. 6-7.
S6. Scottish Parliament (2012). Alcohol Minimum Pricing Scotland Bill.
Citation of UoS research: pp. 3, 6, 8, 12-14 & 16-17.
S7. Department for Social Development Northern Ireland (2011).
Consultation — Minimum Price of Alcohol (http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/consultation-minimum-unit-pricing-of-alcohol.doc).
Citation of UoS research: pp.8-10, 13-14, 27 & 41-42.
S8. The Australian National Preventive Health Agency (2012). Exploring
the Public Interest Case for a Minimum (Floor) Price for Alcohol. (http://www.anpha.gov.au/).
Citation of UoS research: pp.18, 20-21 & 26-27.
S9. Home Office (2012). A consultation on delivering the Government's
policies to cut alcohol-fuelled crime and anti-social behaviour. (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/157755/alcohol-consultation-document.pdf).
S10. Home Office (2013). Next Steps following the Consultation on
Delivering the Government's Alcohol Strategy.
Citation of UoS research: pp. 8.