That’s according to a new study from the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group (SARG), which analysed how consumers respond to price changes. It is the first report to consider how drinkers from different income groups would be affected by minimum pricing in terms of alcohol consumption and spending, alcohol-related deaths, illnesses, and costs to the health service.
The results show that minimum pricing would have the most pronounced effects on the 5% of the population who drink ‘harmfully’ (more than 50 units per week for men, and more than 35 units per week for women). Three quarters of the total reduction in alcohol consumption resulting from minimum pricing would occur in harmful drinkers, with a predicted total reduction in alcohol-related deaths of 860 per year and hospital admissions by 29,900 per year.
Harmful drinkers on the lowest incomes (bottom 20%) would be most affected by minimum pricing, it states. This group spends on average just under £2,700 a year on alcohol, with 41% of the alcohol they consume purchased for less than 45p per unit. Minimum pricing would reduce their alcohol consumption by nearly 300 units per year.
In contrast, the effects on moderate drinkers would be very small, according to the report. Moderate drinkers in the lowest income group buy on average less than one unit of alcohol per week below the 45p threshold. They would reduce their consumption by an estimated 3·8 units (approximately two pints of beer) per year, with an increase in spending of just 4p per year. Across the entire population, moderate drinkers are estimated to reduce their consumption by just 1·6 units (approximately one pint of beer) and spend just 78p more per year.
SARG director Professor Petra Meier said: “Our study finds no evidence to support the concerns highlighted by the Government and the alcohol industry that minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers on low incomes. Instead, minimum unit pricing is a policy that is targeted at those who consume large quantities of cheap alcohol.
"By significantly lowering rates of ill health and premature deaths in this group, it is likely to contribute to the reduction of health inequalities.”