Government condemned after shelving plans on minimum alcohol pricing
Churches say they are deeply disappointed over the Government's U-turn on a minimum unit price for alcohol.
Minister Jeremy Browne said the policy would remain "under consideration" as there was not enough "concrete evidence" at present to implement it.
This claim was slammed by the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, The Salvation Army, and Quaker Action on Alcohol & Drugs.
In a joint response, the Churches said research pointed to the availability of cheap, strong alcohol as the main driver behind the UK's drinking problem.
There were over 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions in 2011 to 2012 in England, costing the NHS £3.5bn.
According to the Churches, the cost to the taxpayer of alcohol misuse, including associated crime and lost productivity, is £21bn.
They argue that a minimum unit price of 50p would save around 3,000 lives a year.
While the Government is concerned that a clampdown on alcohol pricing would unfairly penalise responsible drinkers, the Churches claim it would only cost moderate drinkers 28p a week and that such a cost would be justified by the "substantial" benefits to public health and frontline services.
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The Government also refused to end multi-buy promotions and has instead banned sales of alcohol below the cost of alcohol duty plus VAT.
However, the Churches said this would have little impact as the limit was too low to make a real difference.
They criticised the Government's "weak and inconsistent" alcohol strategy and warned that the failure to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol would "cost lives".
"As Churches we are deeply concerned at the effect of alcohol misuse on problem drinkers, families and communities," said James North, Policy Advisor for the Methodist Church.
"With nearly 9,000 deaths directly related to alcohol in 2011, this is no time for inaction. We look forward to the Government rectifying this decision and putting public health back at the top of its agenda.
"Churches will continue to work alongside medical experts and health charities to campaign for minimum unit pricing as part of a range of measures aiming to address problem drinking in the UK."