Last month the Welsh Government unveiled a new bill, that will introduce a minimum 50p unit price price for the sale of alcohol in Wales. This bill emerges due to updated research claims by Sheffield University that the policy will lead to 66 fewer deaths and 1,281 fewer hospital admissions a year. As Wales emits the highest percentage of alcohol related mortality rates within the United Kingdom, this policy evidently will try to alleviate and combat alcohol consumption within Wales. The availability of cheap, strong alcohol is estimated to lead to 50,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions a year, costing the Welsh NHS £120 million annually, and during this time of austerity and rising hospital admissions there is no wonder that the government are combating this issue from the root of the problem – alcohol sales.
The research that the government has analysed outlines harmful drinkers purchase almost half (46%) of their alcohol for less than 50p per unit. These Welsh drinkers subsequently account for 4% of the drinker population, drink 27% of and are responsible for 20% of all spending on all alcohol consumed in Wales. On the contrary moderate drinkers purchase less than a quarter (22%) of their alcohol for less than 50p per unit which means it is estimated moderate drinkers would only spend £8.30 extra per year under a 50p minimum unit price. There is evidently a correlation between cheap alcohol and higher levels of alcohol consumers which is why there has been calls for this minimum drink pricing in Wales. The minimum pricing will inevitably change the cost of alcohol in Wales as under a 50p minimum unit price (MUP) formula, a typical can of cider would be at least £1, a bottle of wine at least £4.69 and a typical litre of vodka would cost more than £20.
The health secretary for Wales ‘ Vaughan Gething’ has outlined his support for the bill, and how it will positively impact this issue: “This research is further evidence that there is a very clear and direct link between levels of excessive drinking and the availability of cheap alcohol.The introduction of a minimum unit price will have a clear impact on those who drink harmful and hazardous levels of cheap, strong alcohol.It is also expected to make an important contribution to addressing health inequalities by improving the health outcomes of hazardous and harmful drinkers living in the most deprived areas of Wales. All alcohol-attributable deaths are avoidable deaths, so by introducing this measure, we will save lives.”
Whilst this new policy has an initial aim to combat alcohol related deaths and injuries,a think tank has suggested to AM’s that a minimum price for alcohol in Wales could hit drinkers on low incomes and lead to some young people turning to drugs. The free market think-tank IEA stated that the only certain outcome is that it would raise the cost of a wide range of alcohol products. “It will simply wipe out the bottom end of the market and force consumers who have a preference for budget brands to buy mid-range brands,” said Chris Snowdon, the IEA’s head of lifestyle economics. Snowdon later added that “It is likely to lead to a shift from cider to spirits for dependent drinkers. A shift to the cheapest illegal drugs is also highly plausible among some groups, including young people.” He also claimed it could increase the cost of living for those who do not wish to drink less and is likely to lead to those on low incomes cutting other parts of the household budget, such as food and heating.
The Crown is being asked to consent to the Welsh Government’s minimum alcohol pricing legislation to avoid “anomalies” creeping through, Wales’ health secretary outlined to AMs. Thus the Queen has been asked give consent for this bill to be passed. Independent North Wales AM Nathan Gill asked Mr Gething why consent from the Crown, specifically the Queen and the Prince of Wales, was required for the bill.”It’s entirely possible that there will be Crown premises, or premises owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, that will also be licensed premises where sales will be made,” Mr Gething replied. Gething later added that “We don’t anticipate it being a particular problem.””I’m sure that the Crown, following a good news day today, will not wish to have a particular problem on an area of legislation like this,” he added, referring to recent engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Regardless of whether the Queen consents to this potential law, the minimum unit price of 50p for alcohol will have the greatest impact on hazardous and harmful drinkers, which subsequently is likely to have more of a financial impact on less well-off drinkers. Whilst there are claims that it is unfair that the poorest will once again be hit hardest, due to the fact that very few places have introduced a minimum alcohol price, concrete evidence is scarce and therefore their claims being made are not overly viable as much of the research is based on computer modelling and academic assumptions and predictions. The fact that the poorest will be hit according to this research must be taken into to account however the fact that £120 million is spent annually by the Welsh government on alcohol hospital admissions, a change in behaviour is needed to address this Welsh epidemic and whilst a decrease in alcohol consumption perhaps might be a secondary affect of this law, the focus must be on the fact that the government is addressing the hazardous and harmful drinkers in an attempt to prevent further alcohol casualties and deaths.