Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 3 December - An end to cheap alcohol?

The UK government’s move to ban the sale of cheap alcohol to try to cut binge drinking and associated health risks is the latest in a long line of attempts to do something about Britain’s love affair with the bottle.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 3 December

An end to cheap alcohol?


The UK government’s move to ban the sale of cheap alcohol to try to cut binge drinking and associated health risks is the latest in a long line of attempts to do something about Britain’s love affair with the bottle.

Ministers have revealed proposals that would see a minimum cost of 40-50p per unit of alcohol sold by off-licences, shops and supermarkets – those that sell it for consumption off their premises. In effect, this means that any laws would not involve cafes, pubs and restaurants.

“Units” are a scientific measure of alcohol content. For example, a pint of weaker lager will contain roughly two units, which is about the same as 50ml, a pub double, of gin or whisky.

If ministers decide to enforce a 45p per unit minimum per unit, it would see the price of some of the cheapest alcohol, known as “budget booze”, rocket. For example, a four-pack of strong cider at one well-known supermarket would jump from £2.09 to £4.19.

The proposals are a bid to reduce binge drinking – especially by the young – a phenomenon that has increasingly worried experts in recent years. The changes, say their proponents, could be especially successful at reducing “front-loading”, which sees drinkers consuming excess cheap alcohol at home before going out to establishments where drinks are more expensive.

Britain regularly comes near to the top of binge-drinking surveys in Europe. In 2009 one such study by the University of the West of England found UK 15 and 16-year-olds were third highest for alcohol consumption, after the Isle of Man and Denmark.

Unveiling a 10-week consultation on the plan last week to put in place a minimum-per-unit cost, the Home Office admitted that the £42bn a year spent on alcoholic drinks in England and Wales was likely to fall by just 3pc but insisted that it would see a drop in crime and prevent 714 alcohol-related deaths each year.

However, others are far from certain. The Adam Smith Institute, a think tank, has released its own analysis which it says casts doubt on the government’s claims. It says that evidence from countries which have already tried the policy is dubious at best, and also suggests that there is no reason to suppose that a higher price would encourage heavy drinkers to slow down.

There is more contradictory data on this topic than most areas of public policy. For example, one side can point to the number of deaths from alcohol-related liver failure jumping by 20 per cent in the last decade while their opponents can use other official statistics that show a 17 per cent drop in drinking since 2006.

Indeed, it is already clear that this policy will be extremely controversial. It has pitched the multi-billion pound alcohol production sector – together with many who oppose any government intervention in private lives – against the pub trade, which is against the sale of cheap alcohol from shops, in an unlikely coalition with many health professionals.


Questions for discussion


General Discussion

  • What do you know about the dangers associated with binge drinking? How could you find out more?
  • Do you think that increasing the price of alcohol in shops and supermarkets will discourage people from drinking so much? Why/why not?
  • The British are known to be some of the worst binge drinkers in Europe. Why do think this might be?
  • Do you think that young people in this country feel pressured to try alcohol? If so, where does this pressure come from?

Related resources


Alcohol experiences and opinions

  • A selection of video interviews from Youthhealthtalk about attitudes to drinking and binge drinking.

Alcohol: the facts

  • A worksheet with pictures and adverts to encourage understanding around the use of alcohol.

Binge drinking

  • A PowerPoint presentation and lesson plan all about binge drinking.


Alcohol units: what’s in a drink?

  • A worksheet to help pupils calculate alcohol units and compare drinking trends between males and females.


Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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The British Press is in need of an independent regulatory body, today’s much anticipated Leveson report has suggested.

The publication of Lord Leveson’s report on improving regulation of newspapers and journalism is already big news.

Dr Joseph Murray, the pioneering surgeon who performed the world's first successful kidney transplant, has died at the age of 93.



In the news archive index