We published the Government’s alcohol strategy on 23 March 2012, and we are taking a comprehensive approach to reducing the incidence of alcohol-related disease and crime. Our strategy includes the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol, actions at local level, and pledges from industry under the responsibility deal.
The number of UK deaths from liver cirrhosis has increased by five times since 1970, while in France, Italy and Spain it has halved, and is now lower than the number in Britain. Even more disturbing is the fact that thousands of babies are still being born every year in Britain permanently damaged by alcohol. When will the Government take urgent, effective action to deal with this crisis?
I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The Government have already taken action: we set out a strategy in March last year, and we are now consulting on the introduction of a minimum alcohol price. That could save up to 700 lives a year in 10 years’ time, which would make a dramatic difference. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman supports what the Government are doing.
Damage to health as a result of alcohol consumption often leads to wider social damage. I have seen that at first hand when visiting shelters for the homeless in Rotherham. Many homeless people cannot gain access to rehabilitation services because they do not have GPs to refer them. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that those services are available to everyone, especially those who need them most?
The hon. Lady has raised a really important point. One of the consequences of the responsibility deal is that by 2015, 1 billion units of alcohol—about 2%—will be taken out of the market, and that will help some problem drinkers significantly. Moreover, the money that the Government are investing in public health gives local authorities an opportunity to invest in prevention services in order to deal specifically with the core group of people to whom the hon. Lady has referred.