The Welsh Government have said they will be looking to formally go for approval of a 50p minimum unit for alcohol in Wales later this year.
Alcohol is a major cause of death and illness in Wales leading to a number of health and social harms, particularly for what is described as a ‘significant minority of people who drink to excess’.
In 2017, there were 540 alcohol-related deaths in Wales and in 2017-18, there were nearly 55,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions. Welsh Government say all alcohol-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions are preventable.
Ministers have long been clear that a pricing intervention must be a key component of the Welsh Government’s comprehensive strategy to tackle alcohol misuse, not least because the affordability of alcohol has increased significantly over the past two decades.
The National Assembly supported minimum pricing when the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill was passed last year.
The 2018 Act provides a formula for calculating the applicable minimum price for alcohol by multiplying the percentage strength of the alcohol, its volume and the minimum unit price. This mechanism is designed to allow the Welsh Government to target the sale and supply of low-cost and high-strength alcohol.
Ministers have consulted on a preferred minimum unit price of 50p with a summary of the responses to that consultation being published today.
Of the 148 responses, 58 (61%) of the respondents who commented on the proposed price of 50p per unit were supportive of the Welsh Government’s preferred level. 55 stated that there should be no minimum unit price introduced for alcohol.
The Welsh Government say they now intend to lay regulations to the National Assembly for Wales, specifying this level, for its consideration later this year.
Health Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “The Welsh Government has always said that minimum pricing forms part of a wider strategy and approach to reducing substance misuse.
“Following a public consultation, I’m pleased to confirm we will now ask the National Assembly for Wales to approve a 50p minimum unit price. We believe a 50p minimum unit price strikes a reasonable balance between the anticipated public health and social benefits and intervention in the market.
“We will continue to use all available levers to reduce the harms caused by the excessive consumption of alcohol, as we develop and take forward a new delivery plan for substance misuse.”
Many responses to the consultation supported the principle of minimum pricing, but also raised issues regarding the potential unintended consequences of introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol.
The Minister added: “The consultation process raised a number of issues, such as the potential impacts on vulnerable groups, household budgets, the risk of switching to other substances and the potential increase in the number of people seeking support from services. We will continue to consider these potential impacts.
“We have commissioned specific research to look at the risk of switching, which will report ahead of implementation. In December 2018, we announced an extra £2.4m in funding for Area Planning Boards for local frontline substance misuse services so that we can ensure services are widely available. We have worked closely with Area Planning Boards throughout the development of this legislation and we will continue to do so ahead of implementation.”
After the green light is given later this year plans for implementation will continue.
Ahead of implementation, the Welsh Government will continue to work with retailers and other stakeholders – to finalise guidance, supporting documentation and communications to help people prepare. We will also continue to work closely with local authorities and the Welsh Heads of Trading Standards on plans for inspection and enforcement of the legislation. As highlighted in the Regulatory Impact Assessment for the draft regulations, a budget of £300k has been allocated for these purposes over three years.
Welsh Government will also implement plans to evaluate the legislation, which is currently being commissioned. As highlighted in the Regulatory Impact Assessment for the draft regulations, a budget of £350k has been allocated for this purpose over five years.
Welsh Government also recognise the importance of continuing to share and publicise the public health aims of the legislation – and intend to develop further communications on the policy rationale underpinning MUP and its aims to reduce hazardous and harmful drinking. As highlighted in the Regulatory Impact Assessment for the draft regulations, a budget of £100k has been allocated for this purpose.