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Wales introduces minimum unit price for alcohol

The impact of a 50p per unit minimum on the price of alcoholic beverages

Today, the Welsh Government has announced the introduction of minimum unit pricing as part of its Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) Bill.

The Bill will make it illegal for alcohol to be sold below a floor price per unit of alcohol consumed, as well as enable local authorities to enforce powers and bring prosecutions.

It will also address long standing and specific health concerns around the effects of excessive drinking and the availability of cheap, strong alcohol, the Welsh government said. Research has shown alcohol sold below the threshold makes up 72% of beer sales, 78% of cider sales, 42% of wine and 66% of spirits sales in Welsh off-licence shops and supermarkets. 

Official figures show that there were 53,957 alcohol-related admissions of 34,932 people to Welsh hospitals in 2015/16, and 463 alcohol-related deaths in Wales in 2015. According to a Local Gov article in 2016, as much as £900m could be saved over a 20-year cycle if a 50p per unit price was allowed – alongside around a reduction in 50 deaths a year.

Public Health Minister Rebecca Evans, who will bring the legislation to the Welsh Assembly, said of the Bill: “Alcohol-related harm is a significant public health problem in Wales. The 463 alcohol-attributable deaths in 2015 were all avoidable, and each of these deaths would have had a devastating effect on the person’s family and friends.

"There is a very clear and direct link between levels of excessive drinking and the availability of cheap alcohol, so we need to take decisive action now to address the affordability of alcohol, as part of wider efforts to tackle alcohol related harm."

Will they, won’t they?

As BBC News reports, the legislation is back on the table five years after the Welsh Government first looked at introducing it. At that time, the Scottish Government was entering a legal battle against alcohol industry players led by the Scotch Whisky Association after introducing a 50 pence minimum unit price in its Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act – the UK Supreme Court is expected to give its final judgement on whether the policy can be implemented by the end of the year.

In 2014, the Welsh Government’s Advisory Panel on Substance Misuse (APoSM) concluded that the evidence shows that “the introduction of minimum unit pricing would target the most vulnerable groups in our communities and ameliorate the negative impacts of alcohol misuse.” This was supported by expert research from the University of Sheffield, which found that at 50 pence per unit of alcohol:

  • effects on health are estimated to be substantial, with alcohol-attributable deaths estimated to reduce by approximately 53 per year after 20 years, by which time the full effects of the policy will be seen
  • crime is estimated to fall by 3,700 offences a year overall. A similar reduction is seen across the three categories of crime – violent crimes, criminal damage and robbery, burglary and theft
  • workplace absence is estimated to be reduced by 10,000 days per year
  • the total societal value of these reductions in health, crime and workplace harms is estimated at £882m over the 20-year period modelled. 

Westminster initially boycotted the move, claiming that alcohol law falls under centrally controlled policing and criminal justice powers. But the Welsh Assembly seeks to introduce legislation on health grounds, and should the Supreme Court rule in the Scottish Government’s favour, ministers in Wales hope that a minimum unit price would become law by summer 2018.