Hopes price rise will cap drink problems

The Oxford Times: Men outside toilets in St Clements on Christmas Eve with one of the brands of cider that would be affected by a 45p per unit minimum price hike Men outside toilets in St Clements on Christmas Eve with one of the brands of cider that would be affected by a 45p per unit minimum price hike

A minimum price for alcohol could cut street drinking levels in Oxford, it has been claimed.

But the proposal for a 45p minimum price-per-unit would only win half the battle, according to experts and campaigners.

The Home Office launched a consultation last month on proposals to introduce the compulsory minimum price.

The plans were launched in response to criticism of supermarkets which sell some products at very low prices.

Oxford Homeless Pathways manages two support shelters for homeless people in Oxford and it said more than 60 per cent linked alcohol to their homelessness.

It said of the 225 people who stayed at O’Hanlon House in the past year, 95 people admitted they had an alcohol-related problem and another 43 said they had had one in the past.

Spokesman Simon Pitkin said the proposed law could prevent homeless drinkers from buying low-cost, high-strength alcohol.

He said: “Homeless people who misuse alcohol tend to buy the strong beers and ciders like Carlsberg Special Brew, Tenants Super and the so-called super strength cider.

“Currently a can of Special Brew can be purchased for not much more than a £1 – it would almost double in price under these proposals, which will help.”

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Crimes linked to alcohol have plagued Oxford for decades.

In West Oxfordshire alone there are three Neighbourhood Action Groups whose top issues are anti-social behaviour, under-age drinking and alcohol-related crime.

In 2007 Oxford pioneered a new task force to tackle the problem.

The Alcohol Arrest Referral Scheme (AARS) was set up to deal with binge drinkers who cause crime and disorder as a direct result of their alcohol use.

And earlier this year former St Clements ward city councillor Nuala Young told the Oxford Mail over the past six years she recieved more complaints about a student night which became known for cheap drinks promotions – Fuzzy Ducks – than any other issue.

East Oxford campaigner Ed Chipperfield, who campaigned for the closure of the former O2 Academy student club night said the new legislation would help, but not with student anti-social behaviour problems.

He said: “I’m not a sociologist but I think it would be a good idea.

“I think it can help the situation when students are being agressively marketed at about cheap drinks.

“But in terms of the cost to society, I think the people with the real problem are the street drinkers, not the students, and you see them all over Oxford.

“They’re the ones with the serious problems who are being sold strong alcohol in corner shops.

“I don’t think increasing the price of alcohol is going to stop students drinking, I think that would be very hard to do.”

The proposals have been welcomed in certain organisations, such as the Campaign for Real Ale, who say it will encourage people to go to pubs.

Oxford CAMRA branch secretary Steve Lawrence said: “We actively encourage responsible drinking and think this would be a good thing as many problems stem from pubs selling cheap alcohol on offers.”

VIEW FROM THE SUPERMARKETS

The proposals sparked a mixed reaction from supermarkets, with some opposing a minimum price and others saying they will work with the Government.

Sainsbury’s spokesman Tom Parker said: “We are committed to being a responsible retailer of alcohol but we do not support minimum unit pricing because we believe it would punish the vast majority of our customers who consume alcohol responsibly and buy alcohol as part of their weekly shop.”

Matt Francis, from Tesco, said: “We take our responsibilities as a retailer of alcohol seriously and we want to play our part in the fight against alcohol misuse. We have said that we support constructive engagement with government on minimum unit pricing since 2010.

“We made clear at the time that if the measures had the desired effect of helping to reduce harmful drinking, then it would be worth it, whatever the impact on sales.”

The Oxford Mail contacted Aldi and The Co-operative but received no response.

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