Methodists and Quakers have strongly criticised the government's plan to introduce minimum pricing for alcoholic drinks. They say it will be largely ineffective as it will not relate to the strength of alcohol in any particular drink.
Under the plan, which applies only to England and Wales, shops and bars will be banned from charging less than ‘cost price'. The minimum price for a can of lager will be 38p. The policy is based on a commitment made in the Conservative Party manifesto.
But critics say that the minimum prices set by the government are so low that almost no retailers will have to change their prices as a result. They also point out that the minimum price for a can of lager will be the same regardless of the percentage of alcohol it contains.
The Methodist Church and other groups prefer a minimum price per unit of alcohol. This could make stronger alcoholic drinks more expensive than low-alochol ones.
The Scottish government introduced a proposal along these lines last year, but it failed to pass the Scottish Parliament. Plaid Cymru, which backs this alternative, suggested this week that the minimum price per unit should be set at 50p. Plaid MP Hywel Williams said this would prevent supermarkets using alcohol as a loss leader, while protecting local pubs.
James North, speaking on behalf of the Methodist Church, told the Friend, an independent weekly Quaker magazine, that the government's policy "will do virtually nothing to save lives, reduce alcohol-related violence and prevent accidents".
Helena Chambers of Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs (QAAD) told the same magazine that a minimum price of 50p per unit "would make a much more substantial difference to both health and crime".
In response to suggestions that this would unfairly target people on low incomes, Chambers insisted that "people of all economic groups buy cheap alcohol".
Home Office minister James Brokenshire described the government's policy as "an important first step" and "not the end of this". But he has already ruled out the option of minimum pricing per unit.
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association has welcomed the government's initiative as a "pragmatic solution".
James North, while reiterating Methodist backing for minimum pricing per unit, said that the issue went beyond matters of price. He called for a "social revolution" in attitudes to alcohol. He added, "There needs to be a wider recognition that alcohol misuse is a serious issue for our whole society, not just a visible minority who drink cheap alcohol in public places".