Government in U-turn on minimum alcohol pricing

THE GOVERNMENT has shelved plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol sales, the latest in a string of policy U-turns.

Despite Prime Minister David Cameron supporting a proposal that would see alcoholic drinks selling for at least 45p per unit, a cabinet revolt on the issue led by home secretary Theresa May is set to mean the policy is dropped.

Opponents of the measure, including London mayor Boris Johnson, have argued that a price floor would be regressive and would fail to prevent binge drinking – the major justification for the proposal.

A 45p-per-unit cost would mean a bottle of 13 per cent strength wine costing at least £4.41 and a 40 per cent strength 700ml bottle of whisky costing at least £12.60.

The Home Office, led by May, recently finished a consultation on pricing, and the policy has been a priority for Cameron, but a renewed focus on the rising cost of living, in tandem with squeezed budgets, means the plans appear doomed.

Opponents of minimum alcohol pricing around the cabinet table are believed to include May, education secretary Michael Gove, and the former health secretary Andrew Lansley. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is also against the measure, seeing it as illiberal.

They argue that driving up the prices on supermarket shelves would not have the social or health benefits supporters have claimed, and would penalise moderate drinkers on lower household budgets.

A Home Office spokesperson said yesterday: “The consultation on new measures closed on 6 February. We will listen to all views and set out a response in due course.”

Yesterday, the coalition also made a partial u-turn on Iain Duncan Smith’s controversial “bedroom tax” policy, which will see people in social housing lose part of their housing benefits if they have empty bedrooms. Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said that parents of members of the armed forces who leave spare rooms free while their children are away on duty will be exempt, as will foster carers.

The Treasury expects the bedroom tax will save the exchequer roughly £500m per year.