Alcohol policy hit the headlines again this week with David Cameron talking tough on the "alcohol scandal" costing the NHS close to £3 billion per year. Visiting a hospital in north-east England, the Prime Minister spoke of the unacceptable impact of public drunkenness on the NHS and police services across the country.
Cameron called for "innovative" approaches including "drunk tanks" to divert the intoxicated from busy A&Es, and for further enforcement from police to tackle alcohol-fuelled disorder. However the Police Federation criticised the calls saying they are already struggling to resource existing workloads.
The Prime Minister has attracted support from health groups for highlighting the issue of cheap alcohol as part of the problem. Cameron has previously sparked speculation that the Government will seek to introduce minimum pricing in the forthcoming national alcohol strategy.
However in truth the strategy is unlikely to set out direct pricing measures beyond the below cost ban due later this year, which is not expected to affect prices under a 'Duty + VAT' definition of cost. But the Government is likely to continue to pursue taxation measures as already outlined and advised by the IFS, but strongly opposed by the on-trade.
Speaking on the issue, Cameron said:
"We are going to look at the issue of pricing. I am quite convinced that there's deep discounting through supermarkets and sometimes convenience stores of alcohol that is causing part of the problem, but we're looking at this carefully to try and find the right answer.
The issue has attracted widespread media attention. Channel 4 news explored the alcohol policy issue, highlighting conflicts between alcohol industry voices opposing minimum pricing instead in favour of education - an approach often rejected by health groups as ineffective. A Guardian comment also explored alcohol policy tensions, highlighting the controversial Responsibility Deal and Scotland's determination to secure minimum pricing and test EU law on the issue.
See Guardian, Telegraph and BBC reports and interesting pricing and policy analysis in The Spectator. The Guardian's cartoon also satirised the news against Hogarth's depiction of the 18th Century Gin Lane.