THE coalition will today unveil controversial plans to tackle drunken mayhem on Britain's streets by introducing a higher-than-expected minimum alcohol price of 45p per unit.

Multi-buy deals in supermarkets and off-licences could also be banned, under proposals being put out for consultation.

Home Secretary Theresa May is outlining the package in an effort to turn the tide on a culture of irresponsible drinking estimated to cost the taxpayer £21bn annually.

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Officials said it was currently possible to buy a can of lager for as little as 20p, and a two litre bottle of cider for 1.69.

Last month a survey by The Northern Echo found alcohol on sale in the region for as little as 15p a litre.

Nationally, more than a million crimes and 1.2 million hospital admissions were linked to alcohol last year.

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), made up of 32 medical and counselling organisations, welcomed the step.

But chairman Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said the minimum unit price should be 50p rather than 45p.

"The evidence shows us that heavy drinkers and young drinkers are more affected by higher alcohol prices than moderate drinkers," he said.

According to the University of Sheffield, a minimum unit price of 50p would reduce total alcohol consumption by 6.7 per cent, saving around 20,000 hospital admissions in the first year.

Balance, the North-East alcohol office set up to persuade the region to drink more responsibly, has been campaigning for the introduction of minimum pricing.

Last week its director, Colin Shevills, writing for The Northern Echo, said: "We can't continue with a situation where alcohol is available for pocket money prices, where two litres of strong cider containing a woman's recommended weekly intake is on sale for less that 2 and a can of lager is cheaper than bottled water."

However, the drinks industry has warned that the 45p threshold would hit modest consumers hard, without addressing the underlying problems.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association chief executive, said: "While the Government may be consulting on 45p consumers should be aware that the final minimum unit price could be much higher than that.

"In the Spring we were told it would be 40p, its already 45p, we know that health groups are calling for a price of at least 50p and the Scottish Government has already proposed a 50p minimum unit price.

"The impact at 50p would see 65 per cent of prices in supermarkets and off-licences rise with a bottle of vodka increasing in price from £9 to £13.13."

Home Office officials insisted the consultation was targeted at harmful drinkers, problems pubs and irresponsible shops.

"Those who enjoy a quiet drink or two have nothing to fear from our proposals."